LI E) RAFIY
UN I VLR5ITY
A WANDERING STAR
A WANDERING STAR
Lady FAIRLIE CUNINGHAME
" THE SLAVE OF HIS WILL," ETC.
IN THREE VOLUMES
WARD AND DOWNEY
12, YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN
PRINTED BY WOODFALL AND KINDER,
70 TO 76, LONG ACRE, W.C.
P lit w
A WANDERING STAR.
" To right and to left extended
The uplands are blank and drear,
And their neutral tints are blended
With the dead leaves sombre and sear ;
The cold grey mist from the still side
Of the lake creeps sluggish and sure ;
Bare and bleak is the hill-side,
Barren and bleak the moor."
" I FEEL a perfect brute leaving you all
by yourself the whole day," says Miss
Charley Mossop to her sister-in-law two or
three mornings after their conversation on
the subject of Vega's want of occupation,
and Miss Mossop's discovery that what she
wanted was some one younger as a com-
panion than herself and Mr. Mossop.
" Nothing but hunting would make me do
VOL. in. B
2 - A WANDERING STAR.
It ; but you know everything else must go
to the wall when that Is concerned. One
can't afford to lose a day — -It would be posi-
tively wrong. Well, take care of your pretty
little self, Mrs. Albert ; don't sit all the
morning over the fire, and, above all, don't
forget my commissions when you drive into
Grimthorpe In the afternoon. Remember,
I pin my faith on you. I am no hand at
shopping myself ; still there is the hunt ball
coming on next week, and some fresh rags
I must have ; so don't forget — blue tulle and
scarlet velvet — as much as Mr. Lawrle
chooses to give me to cover my ball-gown.
He knows how much I need, and I ought
to know too by this time, for I have gone
to every hunt ball for the last ten years In
exactly the same coloured frock. There's no
choice when one hunts — the hunt colours
are the only thing possible. I broke out
into branches of gorse as trimming one year,
but I was finely laughed at, so back I went to
my old blue and red. I can trust you not to
fail me, and It will give you an object for a
drive, which is something. I am not sure
A WANDERING STAR. 3
that you haven't the best of it to-day, my
dear. To sit with one's feet on the fender all
the morning would be a vast deal more com-
fortable than a fifteen-mile drive to the meet
in this beastly drizzle."
Miss Mossop Is once more warming her
toes by the great hall-fire ; but this time neat
Wellingtons encase her feet and legs, and a
spur on the left heel looks like business.
A huge fur-lined coat lies on the chair
beside her, and her well-made, though some-
what heavlly-bullt, figure looks compact and
thoroughly workmanlike In the stoutest and
strongest of huntlng-hablts. They have had
an early breakfast, for the meet is a long way
off, and Mr. and Miss Mossop are always
punctual as clockwork, time themselves to a
nicety, and take a pride In arriving on the
scene of action at exactly the right moment.
"Albert is a minute or two late, for a
wonder," goes on his sister; ''but we will
make it up, I suppose," and as her brother
fusses into the hall she makes no remark,
but slips Into her big roomy coat, draws on a
pair of thick fur-lined gloves, and strides to
4 A WANDERING SIAR.
the front door, at which the double dog-cart
has been standing for the last five minutes.
Servants are waiting about, flasks and
sandwich-boxes are being put In. Miss
Mossop takes possession of the high box
seat ; a huge plaid is swathed round her
knees. Her brother mounts heavily into
the more lowly place at her side, and as they
drive away they shout their adieux to the
solitary little figure who watches their de-
parture from the doorstep. The roans
plunge, but Miss Mossop Is more than a
match for them, and off they go. A fine
rain is falling, the skies are *' dark and
leaden," and the earth is " dusk and brown."
A low rolling mist blots out the distant downs,
and near at hand great heavy drops of water
hang on everything. The atmosphere Is
charged with moisture — it is depressing,
miserable kind of weather to any one but an
ardent fox-hunter, and even such an one
must Indeed be keen not to feel just a
trifle limp and uncurled at the beginning
of a very long day. Miss Mossop, how-
ever, has no such feelings. The roans
A WANDERING STAR. 5
are pulling like mad ; she has her hands
full, and is far too good a whip to give a
thought to anything but the business on hand.
Mr. Mossop is also unaffected by the
weather, for his soul abhors everything con-
nected with hunting, and he feels neither
more nor less depressed than usual. Were
the sun shininof and the morninof a fine one
his spirits would not be any the better, for
nothing can raise them till the dangers and
the discomforts of the chase are over, and he
is safe on his road home. If anything, he
prefers a nasty raw morning to a bright one ;
he feels it gives him a better chance of get-
ting back to The Towers early in the clay — of
being out of the way when the best covert
is being drawn, and of having a tolerable
excuse for shirkinof in the weather.
Why he should hunt at all, disliking It so
heartily as he does, and why he should
make his winters miserable by attempting
to pursue the fox, are questions he could
hardly answer satisfactorily.
He has a vague idea that if he does not
do so his social position will be endangered,
6 A WANDERING STAR.
and that, whatever others may do, he, who
is only allowed into the charmed circle of
county society, as it were, on sufferance, is
bound to identify himself with it in its amuse-
ments as much as possible.
After all, there are some compensations-
hunt dinners, hunt meetings, even hunt balls,
fill him with satisfaction, and he would be
ashamed to say how much he enjoys dining
in his red coat in the hunting season.
It is only the terrible days that he spends
in the saddle which he finds so trying, and
his one comfort is that, considering the
money he spends on hunting, the number of
horses he keeps, and the trouble that it
gives him, it is wonderful how few hunting
days he has after all, and these a visit to
town *'on business," a convenient cold, or a
well-timed attack of rheumatism can always
curtail still further.
All the sporting instincts of the Mossop
family seem possessed by Miss Charley,
whose love of hunting is genuine and sincere,
who is ready to take the rough with the
smooth, the bitter with the sweet, whose
A WANDERING STAR. 7
pluck is undeniable, and who, without taking
a very brilliant place when hounds are
running, pounds along, jumps everything
that has to be jumped, and is pronounced
a real good fellow by the whole of the
Blankshire field. She understands her
brother, and makes things easier for him
by many a plausible excuse and well-timed
explanation ; he, on his side, is secretly
grateful to her, and is only too glad to repay
her kindness by allowing her to ride some of
the horses of which he is mortally afraid,
feeling amply rewarded when he hears her
loudly extol his liberality in the matter of
mounts to the Gornaway's, or any of those
whose good opinion he covets.
The roans pull ; the high dog-cart bowls
swiftly along ; the meet will be reached all too
soon for Mr. Mossop, and in the meantime
Vega, with that sensation of freedom which it
seems to her very like ingratitude always to
feel in the absence of her pompous, fussy lord
and master, spends a long idle morning
between the conservatory and the inglenook.
It is not very wholesome either for mind
8 A WANEERING STAR.
or body to be so idle, and the Idleness which
resolves itself into living in imagination a
few golden hours over and over agalnjs sadly
She sits by the fire and spins romances ;
she breathes the warm hyacinth-scented
atmosphere of the conservatory, and as
she sits under her favourite palm she is
once more dancing at the domino ball at
Conholt, and listening to Brian Beresford as
he whispers words of love in her ears at the
feet of the marble statue in Lady Julia's rose-
In the afternoon she drives into Grim-
thorpe, as she has promised, but the same
story runs In her brain.
A flat, uninteresting road, with high hedges
on either side, a leaden sky, a passing cart,
or a stray pedestrian, these have no chance
of distracting her attention or of turning her
thoughts from that which it Is worse than
useless and dangerous and a mistake for her
to think about at all.
Brian — Brian — always Brian ! Can she
not save herself by remembering that he
A WANDERING STAR. 9
played her false ; that he laughed at her love,
and that he held her up to ridicule to the
woman who had always tried to hunt her down ?
Alas ! she knows It all ! She believes, and
yet she cannot believe, that he failed her ; but
the very uncertainty and doubt keeps her
mind In a kind of feverish excitement.
We are all of us wise when years have
sobered us — when the fires of love burn low —
when passion is dead, and our day is done.
It Is harder at eighteen ; when the young
blood runs hotly in the veins, when head and
heart are both aglow with the fervour of
desire, and when life Itself is love.
The carriage dashes up the High Street
of Grimthorpe. Does it come on Vega as a
surprise, or Is It only like the continuation of
her day-dream that Brian Beresford should
be there also ?
She has not set eyes on him for more than
a year. He went, Heaven knows whither,
almost immediately after Lady Julia Damer's
fancy ball. He comes of a roving race ; he is
never so happy as when he is leading a life
of sport and adventure, and he goes far
lO A WANDERING STAR,
afield to find them. He has come from the
uttermost ends of the earth now — this Is the
first day he has been back in these parts at
all, and it is Vega's fate to meet him ! He is
some distance off, but there is no mistaking
that tall, slim, active figure ; besides, she
could not be mistaken !
He does not see her, but her head is swim-
ming as the victoria pulls up in front of the
great Mr. Lawrie's open door and plate-glass
windows, full of ribbons, and fiowers, and
finery, and it seems as much as she can do to
cross the pavement steadily.
Mr. Lawrie welcomes her in his own
especial manner — that manner which he
reserves exclusively for the benefit of those
customers who drive into Grimthorpe in their
own carriages. He has another manner for
the townspeople — blank, familiar, even jocu-
lar — a manner which answers its purpose
excellently, and which has made his business
the prosperous concern it is. To the county
families, Mr. Lawrie is another person
altogether ; high hat in hand, he bows low
on his own doorstep, and escorts them with
A WANDERING STAR. I I
dignity through the front shop to a room
behind, a kind of holy of hoHes, where the
wants of these favoured beings are ministered
to by himself and the forewoman — a lady of
a certain age, whose knowledge seems un-
bounded, her good taste indisputable, and her
insinuating manners irresistible. But Vega
hears the great mans polite remarks as
though she heard them not ; his bland dignity
is entirely thrown away on her, as Is the In-
terest taken In her requirements by his oblig-
ing assistant. They show her now this
novelty, now that ; they cover the counter
with delicately-hued silks and satins, which
they pile up In graceful folds to catch all the
light there is ; they throw themselves heart
and soul Into Mrs. Mossop's requirements,
and discuss blue tulle and scarlet velvet till It
seems as If there was nothing more that could
possibly be said on the subject. Mr. Lawrle
knows the exact shade of scarlet and azure that
go best with the coats worn by the gentlemen
of the Gornaway Hunt ; the forewoman does
not pretend to such masculine knowledge, but
her taste Is Invaluable in deciding the num-
12 A WANDERING STAR.
ber of loops of red velvet needed to trim a
ball gown, and the general arrangement of
If all their customers gave them as little
trouble as " young Mrs. Mossop " Mr.
Lawrle and his assistant think they would
have an easy time of It. She gives In to
them on every point, accepts their sugges-
tions as If they were Infallible, and sits, pas-
sive and Inert, while thev look after her
Interests and their own at the same time.
Her mind seems to hold but one Idea —
will she see Beresford as she leaves the shop
— or, rather, will he see her ? And suppos-
ing he speaks to her, wull she be able to
command her countenance and hide all
traces of feeling or agitation ? She longs —
oh, how madly she longs ! — to look him In
the face, to hold his hand, to hear his
voice again ! Still, now, when In a few
minutes she may be doing all three, she
almost shrinks from It. She Is not sure of
herself, and her heart beats madly at the
very Idea. Why, her voice does not seem
quite her own as she answers some of Mr.
A WANDERING STAR. 1 3
Lawrle's polite questions, and her hand
shakes when Miss Minniken begs her to
take two shades of scarlet velvet to the
window and. judge for herself the most suit-
able shade for Miss Mossop's ball-gown.
She chooses at random, but Miss Minni-
ken applauds her selection, and the parcel Is
a good-sized one that a smiling shop-boy
carries out finally to the victoria.
*' As sweet a little lady as ever comes
inside these doors," is Miss Minnlken's ver-
dict after Mrs. Mossop's departure. " I only
wish we had more of that sort on our books.
That's what I call a real lady, and one as
behaves according. No setting up of ridi-
culous ideas about /ler. No trying to get
hold of something that no one has ever seen
or heard of, or tossing over everything In
the shop, and then saying it's not the colour,
or the shape, or the size that is wanted.
Why, a good many of our customers don't
know their own minds no more than the
babe unborn. I've seen some of them look
quite dazed and silly like while they're try-
ing to make out what it is they want, and
14 A WANDERING STAR.
no sooner have I got them to choose some-
thing than they turn right round and say
that's the very thing they don't Hke, and
then it's all to begin over again. Oh ! some
of the customers are the mischief, that's what
they are ! Not like this pretty little lady
from The Towers, who looks so sweet, and
who has the sense to see that we know-
better than she does, as it stands to reason
we must. Who makes the best thing of it,
I should like to know, in the end — the ladies
who nearly go mad over their shopping, or
the ladies, like her, who take it easy ? "
"Mrs. Mossop zs a pretty little lady, as
you say, Miss Minniken," returns Mr.
Lawrie to this tirade, as he re-enters the
shop with a satisfied air. " But she's not
up to the countess yet ! The countess is
the lady for my money. It's a perfect pic-
ture to see her come into the shop with her
great deerhound at her heels. There's such
a dash about her ladyship, she looks so bold
and frank, and yet so pleasant-spoken and
lively. And so full of her jokes, too !
'It's too bad of you, Mr. Lawrie,' she says
A WANDERING STAR. 1 5
to me no later than yesterday, ' you've
played me false at last. What about that
pink velvet you promised me so faithfully? '
' I beg your ladyship's pardon,' says I, 'the
pink velvet was sent out to the Castle half
an hour ago. I telegraphed to Genoa for
it, and I am proud to say your ladyship will
not be disappointed.' And then the countess
thumps with her little fist on the counter.
' Well done ! It's more than I expected, Mr.
Lawrle, and I a7n obliged.' It was pretty
to see her ; but then I like them with spirit,
and the countess has more spirit in her little
finger than this sweet little lady from The
Towers has in her whole body."
*' I'm none so sure of that," answers Miss
Minniken, in a mysterious manner. "It's the
quiet ones that are the most deadly in the
long run," and then the conversation becomes
purely personal, and Miss Minniken and
Mr. Lawrle indulge in the mild flirtation
strictly limited to ten minutes, which takes
place every evening across the silk counter
before the shop Is lit up !
Mrs. Mossop, In the meantime, has left
1 6 A WANDERING STAR.
the shop with a beating heart, turning her
head neither to the right nor left, as is the
way of those who hope yet fear to look. It
would seem as if the journey across the
pavement to the carriage is too much for
her ; for her knees shake, and she totters as
she walks. Is she sorry or joyful that Brian
Beresford is so near her, and that the next
moment may bring him to her side ? She
cannot tell, and she need not, for chance,
blind chance, takes the matter, as usual, into
her own hands. A door opens, the door of
the next house to Mr. Lawrie's fashionable
emporium, and before the soft furs of the
victoria have been carefully arranged round
Mrs. Mossop's pretty feet and knees Beres-
ford is standing beside her. There is a
passing hesitation on his part ; his manner
seems constrained and embarrassed just for
a minute ; but he is a man of the world, and
he does not wear his heart on his sleeve.
It is quite possible for everything to go on
wheels — in a nice, simple, utterly common-
place manner. The man who has returned
from the Rocky Mountains, or their equiva-
A WANDERING STAR. I 7
lent, Is ready to talk In a banal sort of way
to the woman with whom — let us say — he
had had a pronounced flirtation before he
went away, and who has made an excellent
and wealthy marriage In his absence.
Everything Is ready to go on wheels, as
beforesald, but for one trifling circumstance,
and that is, that he gives one swift glance at
the lady's face, and that look upsets all his
All the colour seems suddenly to have left
her sweet cheeks, and the eyes that meet his
for a second, only for one second, look at
him sadly and wistfully.
Surely that is not the face of a prosperous
woman, of a girl who had been, to say the
least of it, a trifle mercenary, and who, aided
and abetted by Lady Julia, had determined
to make a rich marriage, and had succeeded
only too thoroughly ; a girl who, he had been
told, had laughed at the Idea of a love match,
and who looked on marriage altogether as a
game at which the highest bidder must win.
This Is a face that, now that he sees it again,
seems to him incapable of any low or sordid
VOL. III. C
1 8 A WANDERING STAR.
sentiment ; a face from which, beautiful as it
is, he feels in honour bound to turn away his
eyes, for he seems to surprise her secret as
he looks. Yes ! He cannot be mistaken !
Vega's present agitation can only be explained
in one way, and a duller man than Brian
Beresford must have come to the same con-
It is written in her innocent face, in the
emotion she tries in vain to hide, in the.
broken voice in which she answers his greet-
ing, in the trembling hand that she holds out
They do not speak for a minute ; silence
reigns ; that fatal silence that often means so
much more than words, and his greeting,
when it at last comes, does not seem over
well-chosen, " It is so long since we met."
Yes ; long since he told her that he loved
her, and since he gave her a Judas-like kiss
in the rose-garden, and then betrayed her to
" Yes, yes, Brian," she answers nervously ;
it is folly to call him Brian, and yet how can
she greet him formally as Mr. Beresford ?
A WANDERING STAR. 1 9
" You have been away a long time," she goes
on with an effort.
" And have only got home a few days,"
he goes on, talking quickly and constrainedly.
" I am due at Conholt to-night for a short
visit. Is there any chance of your being
over there ? "
'* I don't think so," she answers. " We — we
— are very little at Conholt now ; indeed, we
are very seldom away from The Towers at
" Then how are you to be seen ? but, in-
deed, it has always been desperately hard to
see you," he says, with a smile which makes
him for a moment look very like the Brian
of the Gitana days again ; he would dearly
like to propose to come over and see her,
but something keeps him back. *' Are you
too great a recluse to go to the Hunt Ball ?
I believe they are going to keep me at Con-
holt till that festivity is over. Is there any
chance of seeing you there ? "
" Yes ; we are going to the ball," says Mrs.
Mossop, and her foolish heart bounds with
joy at the bare idea of meeting him again, and
20 A WANDERING STAR.
then the horses plunge a little, Impatient after
the long, cold wait ; the coachman gives one
glance round, as much as to tell his young
mistress that it is time to be getting home,
and the footman, discreetly standing out of
earshot, looks a picture of chilliness and
resignation. " We must be getting home
now," says the girl hurriedly, and then they
clasp each other's hands ; their eyes meet,
and that glance seems half to Intoxicate
Vega, and make her forget for the moment
at least that she once tried Brian Beresford
in the balances and found him wanting.
7^ ^ ^ ^ 7^
** Well ! Mrs. Albert, here we are back at
last," Is Miss Charley's greeting. In a loud,
jovial, satisfied voice, as she and Mr. Mossop
come home hours after Vega has returned
from Grimthorpe, to find her In her favourite
niche by the great hall fire ; '' we have had
a right good day ; but I am afraid that you,
you poor little thing, have had a slowlsh time
of it. No ? Then all I can say is, your
mind must be a kingdom to you, and cer-
tainly you are not looking bored, Indeed
A WANDERING STAR. 21
you're looking twice as brig-ht and lively as
when we left you this morning. What has
come over you ? Oh ! I know ! You've
followed my prescription, and been in the open
air more than usual. The drive to Grim-
thorpe has done you good, and woke you up."
" That must be it," answers Vega, with a
guilty conscience, for she knows it is her
meeting with Brian, and not the chill Novem-
ber breezes, that has made her eyes shine,
and that has put life and youth in them to-
night, instead of their usual quiet melancholy.
She knows that it is not the drive to and
from Grimthorpe that has worked the change,
but the touch of Brian's hand, and the antici-
pation of happiness in store for her when she
meets him at the ball. " I have not failed
you, Charley, at any rate," she goes on hastily.
" There is enough blue tulle and red velvet in
that parcel for half a dozen dresses, I should
have thought, though Mr. LawTie assured me
it was Miss Mossop's usual quantity, and that
he had heard that Miss Mossop liked her
dresses very full. But I am very glad to
hear you have had a real good day."
2 2 A WANDERING STAR.
" Good ? capital ! my dear, Vega, ' says
her husband, bustling in at last. He has
been giving a dozen contradictory orders to
different retainers in the outer hall, and now,
full of pride at his muddy and bespattered
condition, he struts up to the fireplace, his
broad sturdy figure filling up nearly the whole
of the inorlenook. *' We have had wonderful
sport ; two really first-rate runs ; a brilliant
one in the morning. I was thrown out by
the most unlucky series of accidents, but
Charley here went like smoke ; however, I
was well up in the afternoon gallop, which
was nearly as good."
"So it was, Albert, so it was," says his
sister, humoring him, and perfectly ready to
conceal the fact that he was as much thrown
out of the one as the other ; ''and how well
that grey carried you. Lord Gornaway had
a long talk to me about him. He says he
would give anything in reason for that horse,
but I told him there wasn't the ghost of a
chance of your selling him."
Mr. Mossop swells with pride and
satisfaction. He is delighted that the
A WANDERING STAR. 23
M.F.H. should envy him his mount, and
delighted to be able to say that no known
sum would tempt him to part with the
" Well, Vega, my dear," he says, turning
to his wife, ''you seem very bright and
blooming. It's all the open air, I suppose,
as Charley says. She has more sense in her
little finger than most people have in their
whole bodies, and no one who follows her, in
the hunting field, or elsewhere, will go very
far wrong, you may take your oath of that."
*' What did you do with yourself in Grim-
thorpe, and who did you see ? "
" Who could she possibly see there on a
hunting day ? " chimes In Charley. " Why,
Grimthorpe Is a howling wilderness when
the hounds meet on this side of the county.
I suppose the only man you saw was Mr.
Lawrle, Vega ? Did he make himself as
fasclnatinor as usual ?"
" He took the greatest possible Interest in
you and your dress, Charley," says Vega,
laughing. ** Mr. Lawrle contributed the
sporting element, and Miss MInniken the
24 A WANDERING STAR.
taste, SO betv/een them I think you will find
it's all riorht."
" You are a nice little thing," says Miss
Mossop, stooping down and presenting her
cool, fresh, healthy cheek for Vega to kiss.
" You've only one fault In my eyes, and that
is that you're no sportswoman. But one
can't have everything, and you are very
charming as you are. And that little Miss
Langton who was to come here and keep
you company now that Albert and I are
hunting so much — Is there no word of her ? '*
''Yes," answers Vega. " I heard from her
to-day. Her mother won't let her come
here till the hunt ball Is over. Dottle Isn't
out yet, though she's as old as I am ; but
Lady Hermlone won't hear of her going to
She does not think it necessary to repeat
all Dottle's remarks on the injustice and self-
ishness of herj mother and aunt, her wild
paroxysms of gratitude for the invitation to
The Towers, or her highly-coloured descrip-
tion of the horrors of the life led by herself
and Pussie for the last two months In cheap
A WANDERING STAR. 25
lodgings in an-out-of-the-\vay village, while
Lady Hermione had been paying some
particularly lively visits.
Dottie's bitterness has something almost
comical about it, and her frankness, as she
enlarges on her present privations, is all but
brutal, and would be ludicrous if there was
not a certain amount of pathos about it also.
Vega laughs, but feels touched at the same
Dottie is rough, audacious, as unscrupu-
lous as any one with so little in her power
can possibly be. Vega had never much in
common with her when they were together,
and when she had first come to Conholt as
a stranger Dottie had been filled with actual
hatred of the girl whom she chose to consider
an intruder — she was consumed with envy
and jealousy — she grudged her her pretty
face, her taking manner, every kind word
that Colonel Damer said to her, and every
admiiring glance that fell naturally to the lot
of the charming girl.
But time had softened Dottie, and she
had arrived at feeling a kind of affection for
26 A WANDERING STAR.
Vega Fitzpatrick, which increased In propor-
tion to her troubles.
Before Vega became Mrs. Mossop Dottle
had actually turned into a kind of friend and
champion. She felt sorry for her, and to be
sorry for any one was always a sure road to
Dottle's heart, and she had a heart, though
a hard one, which is more than can be said
of many better people than her.
A WANDERING STAR. 2/
Of all the Blankshire functions none
causes so much excitement as the hunt ball
that is given every year in the month of
January by Lord Gornaway and the gentle-
men of his hunt.
It comes at a very quiet time of the year,
when dulness reigns in the land, and there
is no doubt that it gives rise to more talk,
both before and after the event, than a dozen
London balls put together.
In the first place, it is incumbent on the
owners of all the large houses within a radius
of ten miles of Grimthorpe to invite as
many guests as their hospitable mansions
will accommodate. Every house is bound
to be filled to overflowing, and with the right
people, too, because not a stone must be left
28 * A WANDERING STAR.
unturned to make the ball a success, for
the hunt ball has become a regular institu-
tion in Blankshire.
Almost every Blankshire girl makes her
first appearance at this ball, and even those
who are not considered fairly out till they
have made their curtsey to Royalty secure
by this means a short country season to
the good beforehand.
It is a ball at which there are always
plenty of men, and men of the right sort,
too, and many a match has been arranged
and many a proposal made in some one of
those small dingy, shabby rooms, which by
the aid of blue and red tarlatan, foxes'
brushes, and masks, and other trophies of
the chase, have been transformed into regular
bowers of bliss.
For weeks beforehand ball o-owns have be-
come a burning subject, and many Blankshire
ladies, as well as Miss Charley Mossop, have
sought the aid of Mr. Lawrie, who, on his
side, is ready for them all. He knows to a
turn the exact shade of the blue facings of
a Blankshire hunt coat, while an instinct,
A WANDERING STAR. 29
which almost amounts to genius, tells him
the scarlet flowers, or berries, or feathers,
which will not clash with the coats them-
selves. He Is so untiring, so interested in
every detail, so anxious to cut himself in
two to oblige any of the "county ladies,"
that it Is no wonder that they declare that it
is much less trouble to shop in Grimthorpe
than in London itself!
The Towers has not been behind its
neighbours in its preparations for this most
If Mr. Mossop in his heart of hearts looks
on fox-hunting in the light of a penance that
he is bound to perform, and from which he
may not hope to escape, at least he enjoys
to the full its compensations. He rejoices
in any gathering where he can wear his red
coat, and appear as one of the principal
supporters of the Blankshire hunt. His
subscription to the covert fund is so large
that he can at least impose on himself to
that extent, and his attendance at hunt
meetings so constant, and his interest in
every small detail connected with the hunt
30 A WANDERING STAR.
SO keen, that he even imposes on other
He has been the working member of the
present ball committee, and in consequence
of his labours in the town hall has managed
to shirk two or three days' hunting.
The Towers is now as full as it can hold,
and though that pinchbeck castle is not
nearly so roomy as it looks, still a large
party is gathered under its roof Great
fires blaze in the Versailles gallery ; guests
lounge on the pink satin chairs, and sofas
of the celebrated Trianon suite. The orches-
trion seems to be going all day long, and
there is eating and drinking from morning
Mr. Mossop at any rate is genuinely
happy ; not only is he thoroughly hospitable,
and especially delighted to fill his house
on this occasion, but a blessed frost has
come to raise his spirits still higher. Nay !
more ! a frost that looks as if it meant to
He can grumble with the keenest, and
lament the idleness of the horses who are
A WANDERING STAR. 3 1
eating their heads off in his stable, but in
reality his heart swells with joy as he feels
the pinch in the air, rejoices over the
stillness and absence of wind, and counts
up all the portents that betoken a long spell
of frost. Miss Charley herself could not
look more depressed when the weather is
discussed, and sworn at ; but it is to him as
a day of grace for which he cannot be suffi-
ciently thankful !
His wife on the other hand feels no
exultation about anything.
After having looked forward to this ball
as her one chance of seeing Brian Beres-
ford, she seems suddenly to have veered
round, and actually appears to dread it.
The possibility of stopping away altogether
even crosses her mind, but she knows of no
excuse that would avail her short of positive
falsehood, and she could hardly tell the
reason of this sudden change even to
Perhaps the very eagerness with which
she had looked forward to it may have
opened her eyes to the truth, or it may be
32 A WANDERING STAR.
that the fussy but at the same time kindly
anxiety that her husband displays about the
clothes that she is to wear, the jewels with
which she Is to be decked on the ball night
may have touched her. She is grateful to
him even while he worries her, though her
conscience tells her that she is not half
grateful enough. She remembers how much
he has given her, and how hitherto she has
taken everything passively, and as a matter
of course ; but above all she realizes that in
thought at least she has played him false,
and that it is not her husband who fills her
heart. Can she help it ? She does not
believe it, but at least she can resolve to
thwart him in nothing.
So she wears the heavy white brocade,
which he declares is the only dress in her
possession that is important enough for
Mrs. Mossop of The Towers ; but she looks
childish rather than important in it, and it
is so incongruous to her youthful face and
slim body that it defeats its own object.
Diamonds gleam in her fair hair, and shine
on her white neck, and whether her dress
A WANDERING STAR. 33
be handsome or over-heavy there Is no
doubt that she looks a dream of loveH-
The Towers party Is among the earHest
to arrive on the scene of action, for Mr.
Mossop is not only the hardest working
member of the ball committee, but is also
one of the stewards, and a very fussy and
important one. He does not wear a red
and blue rosette on his hunt coat for nothing,
and he struts about full of importance, giving
contradictory and confusing orders to ser-
vants who fortunately know their business
better than he can teach them, and receiving
the small fry who invariably appear on the
stage a long time before the more important
people. Mr. Mossop is perfectly happy,
and becomes more and more consequential
as the rooms fill, and people begin to arrive
in good earnest.
Lord Gornaway has at last made his
appearance, and as the two stand together
at the door receiving their guests Mr.
Mossop's cup of bliss Is full.
His own party has scattered long ago, for
VOL. III. D
34 A WANDERING STAR.
all his guests seem perfectly capable of
looking after themselves. Miss Charley,
gorgeous in blue and scarlet, and in the
highest spirits, is the centre of a group of
red-coated men, and her boisterous laugh
and loud jovial voice may be heard all over
She does not mean to let the grass grow
under her feet to-night ; there will be no
sitting out in bowers of bliss for her, no
loitering on staircases, no dallying in dimly-
lighted corridors ! She has come determined
to dance, and dance she will ; she is good
for six hours at least, and as she is extremely
popular in the hunting-field and elsewhere her
friends rally round her, and there is brisk com-
petition for the twenty-five dances she has to
dispose of. She fills her card in a business-like
manner, ties it firmly to the large fan on which
a whole pack of hounds in full cry are painted
in a very vigorous fashion, and then begins
the evening's work. Vega, too, dances, and
many an admiring eye follows her round
the ball-room ; but she is not known in Blank-
shire as Miss Mossop is known, and her
A WANDERING STAR. 35
very beauty and high-bred air seem to
frighten some of those fox-hunting squires.
They are much more at home as they talk
and laugh with her sister-in-law, who knows
all their jokes, is like one of themselves in
all their sports and pastimes, and has long ago
been voted " a real good fellow " by them all.
Hence it happens that when the moment
comes at last for the Conholt party to make
its appearance in the ball-room Vega is not
dancing, but is standing alone, as Brian
Beresford comes in at the door.
Lady Julia and her train arrive very late.
It is her way to make her world wait ; and,
though the hunt-ball is not exactly depend-
ent on that great lady's arrival, there is no
denying that there seems to be something
wanting till she appears on the scene.
She has always a large party, and her
guests, as a rule, are noticeable : they are all
of them smart, and most of them good-
looking ; while Lady Julia herself is a
woman about whom every one talks, and to
whom the eyes of all naturally turn.
She is blamed — -she is hated — some even
36 A WANDERING STAR,
look askance at her ; but she is never
neglected or overlooked — she is a "person-
age," and the most noticeable figure in
whatever society she finds herself.
Even now look at her as she mounts the
staircase and comes into the ball-room.
Many have passed that door to-night who
have lovelier faces, and who are in all the
glory of youth.
Lady Julia is older than some of these
rivals of hers by a dozen years ; but not
even the tongue of spite has ever called her
faded, nor do detractors dare to whisper
about her in the past tense.
'' This ghastly, white-faced Time of ours "
does not, as yet, ''mar Faustine"; and if
she has known the joys of many "fierce
midnights," at least, to all outward show, the
*' famishing morrows " are still a long
No one could point out flaw or failure in
the looks of such a woman : as far as the
mere animal goes she is perfection.
Her splendid arms and bust seem made of
polished marble, and are as fauldessly
A WANDERING STAR. '}^']
shaped as if she were a goddess carved in
Parian by some master hand.
Her bodice is cut low — very low ; and
only jewelled straps, on which gleam rubies,
diamonds, and other precious stones, do
duty for sleeves, but hardly break the per-
fect line of the shoulders. The whole front
of the bodice — the whole front of the ball-
gown, are covered with the same jewelled
embroidery. What would be over-gorgeous
for other women to wear is only in keeping
with her commanding looks and presence ;
and the folds of her dress have a shim-
mering light on them like the flame that
glows in the heart of a fierce furnace.
Her handsome face is full of spirit and
animation to-night ; and a string of dia-
monds winds snake-like among her dark
She is without a rival In her own par-
ticular line of beauty, and her knowledge of
that fact gives her an air of assurance and
superiority to the common herd which would
be worthy of an empress.
She has a good foil to-night in the next
38 A WANDERING STAR.
lady of her party, who follows her into the
room, and who — Lady Hautaine though she
be — Is ill-dressed, ill-looking, and, if all
accounts are true — extremely ill-mannered
also, for she is one of those very great ladies
who seem to despise the rest of the world,
and who do not scruple to show their
'' She is noble and nude and antique "
with a vengeance, for her dress is nearly as
indecently low as that of Lady Julia's, with
this difference, that there is no display of
beauty ; for her neck and shoulders might
be a study in anatomy. To be sure, her
bony collar-bones and a few of the upper
bones of the chest are hidden by a huge
necklace of emeralds and diamonds ; but,
large as it is, it is not large enough to hide
skin the colour of parchment, and a chest
that seems to have more than the proper
average of knobs and bumps.
Her head is held as high in the air as
Lady Julia's handsome head, but the effect
is by no means the same ; and the con-
descending smile v/ith which she surveys the
A WANDERING STAR. 39
scene before her is sour as well as superior.
She bows to Mr. Mossop in a manner which
would be aggravating if practised by a
queen on the meanest of her subjects.
Lord Gornaway she is ready to treat better ;
but, as, to use his own words, "he never
could abide the old woman," she receives no
encouragement from him to linger at his
Next in order comes Lady Hermione,
looking nearly as handsome as her sister,
even though her gown is black and plain,
and cut in a style of almost rigid severity.
But its very plainness sets off her fine figure
amazingly ; and the few diamond ornaments
that lighten it and crown her small, well-
shaped head seem to have twice the effect of
those worn with more brilliant attire.
Two pretty girls in white complete the
ladies of the Conholt party ; and then come
about half a dozen good-looking young men,
all in red coats, all with gardenias in their
button-holes, all pretty much alike, and all
full of swagger ; while Colonel Damer,
high - bred and distinguished looking, and
40 A WANDERING STAR.
Brian Beresford, slim, lithe, still sunburnt
with tropical suns, and handsomer than any
of the others, brings up the rear.
They arrive at exactly the right moment.
One dance is over, the next is not yet
begun, and people cluster round them to pay
court to Lady Julia, to extract a frosty smile
from Lady Hautaine, and to engage the
pretty girls in white for as many dances as
Then the band begins a noisy cheerful
Lancers, and Lady Julia sweeps to the top
of the room on Lord Hautaine's arm,
followed by others of her party who mean to
dance, and who intend to do so in an
exclusive set of their own.
Brian Beresford is not of the number, for
something seems to draw him to Vega's side
at once. " You are not dancing, Mrs.
Mossop. Will you dance this with me ? "
A lovely colour mounts to her cheeks as
he speaks to her, and her eyes look up at
him shyly and wistfully. Try as she like, she
cannot give them a common-place expres-
sion ; still the very feeling of joy that fills
A WANDERING STAR. 4 1
her heart recalls to her mind the resolutions
she has made so lately, and which she has
so earnestly determined to keep.
What shall she say or do ? Shall she fail
at once, or shall she avoid him, as every
instinct of her heart tells her is her duty ?
She will try. " I don't think I care to dance
this, Mr. — Mr. Beresford," she stammers
out, halting lamely as she utters her formal
greeting. " I don't mean to dance very much
to-night. I havebeen dancing, and I am tired."
Brian looks hurt, and is about to turn
away without a word of protest when Mr.
Mossop, whose duties as one of the hosts are
pretty well over, and who now is able to fuss
and interfere in other quarters, puts in his oar.
'' Tired, my dear Vega ? " he says, in tones ot
positive annoyance. " Why ! the ball has
hardly begun. Surely you are not so tired
that you can't dance these Lancers at any
rate. Look ! look ! Lady Julia and Lord
Hautaine want a vis-a-vis. Of course you
must dance, and dance opposite them. Look
sharp, Beresford, before they get some one
42 A WANDERING STAR.
So Vega, before she knows what she is
about, finds herself fighting her way through
the crowd at Brian's side ; but her husband s
wish that they should have the honour of
dancing in Lady Julia's set is not gratified,
for Brian does not aspire to such distinction,
and indeed carefully avoids catching the
great lady's eye. They drift into another
set, made up of far less important people,
none of whom they happen to know. They
seem struck dumb both of them — they
dance in a mechanical sort of way, but they
do not flirt, nor are they merry. Now that
they are together again they feel constrained,
nervous, ill at ease ; they are not like
strangers, but are they friends ? Brian looks
once or twice at the white-robed fissure at
his side, who, with looks averted, seems
positively to shrink from him.
'' What are my faults or shortcomings in
her eyes ? " he asks himself, bitterly. "In
what have I sinned, and why should she bear
me a grudge ? It was not / who played
false, but she who went in for the double
game. She deceived me thoroughly ; but it
A WANDERING STAR. 43
would have taken a wiser man than I to have
doubted her truth. What an Innocent child
she looked the very last night I saw her, —
the night of Lady Julia's masked ball, —
and yet she let me make love to her while
she had promised that very day that she
would marry that fellow Mossop. When we
sat together in the rose-garden I could have
sworn that she loved me too. Who could
have thought that it was all as nothing to
her — a mere passing fancy on her part ?
God knows that I loved her from the first
minute I saw her, and that night seemed to
put the crowning touch to It all. I adored
her, and all but told her so — the words were
trembling on my lips, and would have been
spoken had not that wretched woman come
to spy on us. Fancy a girl with an angel
face like that ready — eager — to sell herself for
money ! One can hardly take it in. Well !
she has got the hard cash, and I hope -It
makes her happy. I don't see why she
should shun me for all that, but I have
read somewhere that people always hate
those they have wronged ; so If that Is
44 A WANDERING STAR.
true I expect she hates me with her whole
Everything seems dark to Vega also, for
her mind is tortured by thoughts that war
against each other. In spite of her own
will she knows that she loves Brian — loves
him with her whole heart — loves him as If
there was no Mr. Mossop In the world, and
it was not a sin to do so — and yet — and yet —
she tries to remember his treachery to her ;
to lash herself into anger as she recalls his
mockery of her love, and his betrayal of
her to her enemy. She remembers It all ;
she recalls the very words he used when he
scoffed at her, but though the words come
back, now their sense seems to be deadened ;
or is it that as she stands beside her false
love she forgets everything but joy in his
And yet they do not look a very joyful
pair. They are both Intensely quiet and
silent, and he has not a word to say to his
partner when he takes her back to her seat
and her husband, for it chances that Mr.
Mossop is sitting there resting after his
A WANDERING STAR. 45
exertions. Beresford does not ask her for
another dance, but goes away without a word,
leaving husband and wife sitting side by
side. It seems hard that Vega, who watches
his tall figure making its way through the
crowd, and believes she has really estranged
him by her coldness, does not feel the glow
of virtue that should be hers by right. It
seems hard that she should feel duller and
morely lonely than ever ; indeed, she seems
dead to everything, and her husband's voice
sounds as if it were miles away. He has two
or three distinct grievances to which she
listens vaguely, but with little understanding
of their importance. Can she explain why
Lord Gornaway has not asked her to dance ?
He and Mr. Mossop are such friends that
he cannot believe it is meant as a slight, but
still it is very extraordinary. Why does she
not take up her proper position on the dais,
where the most important people of the
county sit, as it were, in semi-state ? Why
does she not go near any of the Conholt
Park people ? and is she aware that her
uncle, Lord Hautaine, is in the room, and
46 A WANDERING STAR.
does she not intend to be introduced to him
and Lady Hautaine ? It is perfectly absurd.
He will speak to Lady Julia herself about it,
and get her to introduce them both to Vega's
great relations. Mr. Mossop's voice grows
quite querulous, and his wife is thankful when
her next partner arrives on the scene and she
is dancing once more. She does not listen
much more to her present companion's
remarks than she did to her husband's string
of complaints, and the fulsome compliments
that he pours into her ears are lost on her
entirely, for she is watching Brian Beresford,
who is dancing also, and as she follows him
with her eyes she has no thought for any-
The evening wears on — Vega has danced
a great deal, and is really tired, all the
more so that she has had very little pleasure
It is to be feared that she has not tried to
obey her husband's injunctions — she has not
danced with Lord Gornaway — she has not
joined the Conholt party — above all, she has
carefully avoided the dais on which Mr.
A WANDERING STAR. 47
Mossop would fain have seen her '' take her
proper place." She Is now waiting for her
next partner, and Is leaning against one of
the large pillars, draped with flags and
wreathed with evergreens, that support the
raised part of the room, to which gilded arm-
chairs and important dowagers have been
relegated ever since the first ball was held in
the Grimthorpe Town Hall.
The dais is all but empty now, for only-
Lady Hautalne is enthroned there in solitary
state ; but Vega does not feel inclined to take
possession of one of the empty chairs in her
neighbourhood, and remains hidden from
the great lady's eye by the draped pillar.
A well-known, highly-pitched, but well-
bred voice falls on her ear as she so stands,
and from her corner Vega sees Lady Her-
mlone's tall graceful figure as she crosses the
dais, and takes possession of a vacant arm-
chair next to Lady Hautalne. Though Lady
Hermlone seeks her neighbourhood they are
not very congenial souls for all that.
There have been episodes in the one lady's
career at which the other still shudders when
48 A WANDERING STAR.
she refers to them, as in spite of her pious
horror she is very fond of doing.
There was even a time when Lady Her-
mione found it extremely difficult to catch
Lady Hautaine's eye on any public occasion,
when such recognition would have been of
distinct value to her.
The cold, fishy, prominent eyes of the
greater lady had a way of looking past her
without seeing her, and a more lowly offender
would certainly have been cut altogether. A
little more latitude was conceded by her to one
of her own order ; but Lady Hautaine was
nothing if not virtuous, and she had shaken
her head over Lady Hermione's peccadilloes
as long as they lasted. She could not un-
derstand why people should not conduct
themselves properly. The breath of scandal
had never touched herself, and she supposed
she had been young like other people.
Nevertheless, a certain amount of worldly
wisdom tempered mercy with judgment, and
guided the hand that held the scales of
She was conveniently blind to some of
A WANDERING STAR. 49
Lady Julia's shortcomings, and far more mer-
ciful than she would have been to a less im-
portant person, while her hand would have
been still more heavy on Lady Hermionehad
she not been so well connected.
Now that Lady Hermione — more from
necessity than inclination — has joined the
ranks of the virtuous, Lady Hautalne re-
ceives her, not with open arms — that recep-
tion would only have been accorded to a
much more richly dowered sinner — but with
They sit there together, side by side — the
woman who has never strayed, has kept
every jot and tittle of the law, has been
respected, feared, considered all her life, but
never tempted, never loved, and never been
young, and the other, who, whatever she
may now be, has led a lawless life, and who
is now only just able to pass muster in the
ranks of the fairly respectable. But ex-
tremes meet, and it is curious to hear one
as ready as the other to slander her neigh-
bour, and to spy out evil even where It does
not exist. Lady Hautalne, who has never
VCL. III. E
50 A WANDERING STAR.
been tempted, and Lady Hermlone, who has
been tempted only too much, agree, at least
on one point, that '' there is none that doeth
good, no, not one ! "
They smite all and spare none ; but it is
odd that Lady Hautaine should be as sharp
to discover wrong-doing as Lady Hermione
with all her experience. The woman who
has only learned the ways of vice by hear-
say seems to know by heart ever}^ turn of
the road down which she has never strayed.
Indeed, so vindictive and rancorous is she
in some of her judgments that Lady Her-
mione, as an old offender herself, cannot
help feeling a certain amount of sympathy
for some of those who come under her lash ;
but as she cannot afford that Lady Hautaine
should consider her morality over easy she
does not try to stem the torrent of words.
'' And that Fitzpatrick girl, to whom I
must say, your sister has been wonderfully
kind," asks Lady Hautaine, suddenly, ''how
has she turned out ? What a blessing for
Julia that she found some one to marry her.
I suppose this Mr. Mossop couldn't have
A WANDERING STAR. 5 I
been very particular — at least Ralph Fitz-
patrick's daughter wouldn't be very welcome
in most families. Hautaine wanted me, at
one time, to take her up, but I had no idea
of that sort of thing. One's duty to one-
self and to society forbids such quixotic
kindness. What kind of girl is she ? "
" I don't think you would approve of her
at all," says Lady Hermione, who has always
hated Vega with an unreasoning kind of
hatred, and Vvdio is glad to speak evil of her,
even to some one who does not know the
girl. " She gave my sister no end of trouble
when she was at Conholt, and I didn't at all
approve of her as a companion for Pussie
" I see," answers Lady Hautaine, shaking
her head till the diamonds that were stuck
about her grizzled locks twinkled again.
" Just what one might have expected — a
thoroughly unprincipled girl. For my part,
as I told Hautaine, I believe what I read in
my Bible : I do not expect grapes from
thorns, or figs from thistles, and certainly
should as little expect a daughter of that
UNIVERSITY OF flUNOlS
52 A WANDERING STAR.
dreadful man to turn out well. The scandal
about her father took place very soon after
I entered the family, and I may congratulate
myself that even then I had the sense to see
that we must have nothing more to do with
such people. Of course Hautaine and I
were both sorry for Mary, but after all it
was entirely her own fault that she made the
marriage she did, and she could not expect
us to be hand and glove with such a black
sheep as Ralph Fitzpatrick. I kept Hautaine
steady to this view of the matter, for I was
determined he should not be mixed up with
such a disreputable lot. Mary, poor thing,
died very soon after, so there was no further
difficulty, as we naturally never acknow-
ledged Fitzpatrick or his child as having any
claim on us in any way. I suppose she
takes after him ? "
''Well, she doesn't cheat at cards, if that
is what you mean," returns Lady Hermione,
with her usual plain-spoken brutality and
directness ; *' but her manners to men are
most objectionable. She must have been
brought up in a queer school ; she is so for-
A WANDERING STAR. 53
ward and pushlnp;-. Why, even Reginald
wasn't safe from her when she was at
Conholt ; she made eyes at him whenever
she could — indeed, in strict confidence, I
may tell you he was quite silly about her."
"Ah ! I know what men are," interpolates
Lady Hautaine, her lean head shaking more
impressively than ever as she recalls the
times when even her lord and master himself
might have been beguiled by a pretty face.
'' Has Julia never told you about a pic-nic
to which she took this girl ? " continues Lady
Hermione. "' There was very nearly a re-
gular scandal about that. She got lost, if you
please, and didn't turn up till the next morn-
ing. You can imagine how every one talked !
Fortunately Mr. Mossop was her com-
panion, and as they married soon after it
didn't so much matter ; but you can judge for
yourself from that the sort of girl she is."
*' I cannot be sufficiently thankful that I
never would have anything to do with such a
girl/' says Lady Hautaine, piously. "Hautaine
shall hear of this, and I suppose now at
least he will confess that I have been right."
54 A WANDERING STAR.
The subject of their conversation Is In the
meantime Incapable of moving from her
place. She has not lost a word, for the
voices of both the speakers are clear and
distinct, and they are also quite close to her.
But can she believe her ears ? Can this
be herself that she hears thus maliciously
described ? Does the world in general con-
demn and despise her for her father's short-
comings ? Must she bear the burden of his
sins as well as her own ? Is she a kind of
pariah — a black sheep, to be chased from the
fold as unworthy to mix with the pure and
good ? Can no one see any good In her, and
has the finger of scorn always been pointed
at her though she saw It not ?
She has had many a desolate, many a
solitary, moment In her short life, but never a
worse one than this. It Is such a sudden
blow, and she does not know how she will
be able to stand It at all. It has drained all
the colour from her sweet cheeks ; dimmed
the light of her lovely eyes ; her hands shake,
and she looks as If some one had struck her
an actual physical blow. The music has
A WANDERING STAR. 55
begun, the rest of the world dances, she only
is alone and forlorn, struck to the heart with
Lady Hermione's poisoned arrows.
Her partner, a jovial fox-hunting squire
and a friend of Miss Charley's, has ap-
parently forgotten her, and is, as a matter of
fact, supping heartily with some kindred
spirits, honestly unmindful of his engage-
ment to pretty Mrs. Mossop. Is it good or
bad luck that brings Brian Beresford near
her at this minute ?
She at least is incapable of judging; all
she knows is that a friendly voice reaches
her ear, and that she all but falls a-weeping
when she hears kind words ao^ain.
He sees that something has gone wrong
wich her — has hurt her — though he refrains
from asking what is amiss ; but their eyes
meet ; they seem to understand each other
for the first time to-night, and almost with-
out a spoken word they are dancing together.
Were \^ega only a few years older she
would dance with a heavy heart ; but
when one is young one can throw off
sorrow so easily. A child forgets its tears
56 A WANDERING STAR.
almost before they are dried on the rounded
cheek ; and before youth — blessed youth ! —
has spread its wings and left us for ever,
grief has but a poor, uncertain hold.
Vega forgets everything in Brian's arms.
There is some joy left in life after all — there
are some compensations for its exceeding
bitterness ! The revulsion of feelinor has
been sudden, but what of that ?
The best moments are never those that
are the most carefully prepared and planned
out before hand, and the step from misery to
happiness is a short one when the feet are
not too old and tired.
The cruel words that had cut her to the
quick have passed out of her memory, and,
for the moment at least, they are as if they
had been unspoken. Brian's voice has always
been to her the sweetest sound on earth, and
to be near him was all that she ever wanted.
It must be owned that that dance has no
very calming or sobering influence on either
of them, and when the last sweet, melancholy
notes of the music die away their hearts and
brains both seem on fire.
A WANDERING STAR. 57
" Come now, and rest for a little," says
Brian, in an unsteady sort of voice, and they
cross the ball-room and the dimly-lighted
corridor beyond to one of the small rooms
where the lights are still more dim, and where
the decorations that Mr. Mossop had person-
ally superintended that very morning can
hardly be made out in the gloom.
" Look ! look ! Lady Hautaine," says Lady
Hermione, laying her hand impressively on
the skinny yellow arm of her more impor-
tant companion, while lovely Vega passes
close to the foot of the dais at Brian's side.
" Did you ever see anything so barefaced as
that ? or perhaps you don't know that that
girl was frightfully talked about with Brian
Beresford before she came across this unfor-
tunate Mr. Mossop ? Just look at them now !
I call it a little too early in the day to begin
that kind of thing."
*' / should say," returns Lady Hautaine,
drawing herself up with a jerk as if she
believed a rigid attitude to be the outward
and visible sign of rigid virtue, " that it was
always too early in the day for a married
58 A WANDERING STAR.
woman to begin to flirt. I don't know what
you may think about it, Lady Hermione, but
I have very strong opinions on that subject."
Lady Hermione winces, for she knows
that her companion means to be nasty, and
to remind her of the many lovers she had
loved early and late ; and though it is a kind
of consolation for her to remember that men
would as soon have made love to a Medusa
as to the stiff-necked lady at her side, even
in the heyday of her youth, it is but a poor
one, for she does not dare to put her feelings
Lady Hautaine looks with hard eyes at
Vega through glasses that cling firmly to her
*' She certainly has a certain amount of
good looks — pretty colouring, and all that,
but she won't last. I only give her a few
years at the outside. Wait till she's your age
or mine, my dear Lady Hermione, and where
will she be then ? "
Lady Hermione winces in good earnest
now. It is almost more than the successful
beauty of a very few years ago can stand,
A WANDERING STAR. 59
even though it is utterly absurd that she
should be bracketed, as far as age and looks
go, with Lady Hautaine. It is hard for her to
curb her tongue, or to hide her angry looks,
and her black eyes flash in spite of her
efforts, and she leans back in her gilded chair
choking with mortification.
*' Don't point her out to his lordship,
my dear," continues Lady Hautaine, not
altogether unconscious of the storm she has
raised ; '' pray don't talk about her to him on
any account. There is something of Mary
in her face — something, at least, that might
possibly remind him of his sister, and as I
haven't the slightest intention of taking up
this flighty young woman or her extremely
vulgar husband, it is as well to avoid any dis-
cussion on the subject."
Lord Hautaine, who joins them on the
dais at this moment, does not, poor man, look
a foe that she need fear, for his broad, fair,
good-natured countenance, with its vacant
expression, and retreating chin, indicates a
character extremely unlikely to show fight
should his strong-minded wife buckle on her
6o A WANDERING STAR.
armour and step down in the arena. Like a
good general, however, she evidendy prefers
to avoid an engagement when possible, and
she considers the tactics that would keep him
in ignorance of the near neighbourhood of the
only child of hisdead sistertobe wise and right,
or at least perfectly justified by circumstances.
In the meantime Brian and Vega are
sitting near — dangerously near — together, in
a solitude which is of itself always perilously
" I thought you had changed to me," is
all the man has to say to the woman who
believes and is firmly persuaded he has given
her only too much cause to do so.
It is a commonplace, banal speech enough ;
no doubt something like it has been mur-
mured half a dozen times to-night by those
who meant nothing by it ; perhaps the walls
of this very roomi have echoed to the question
and heard the laughing reply.
There is no laughter in Vega's voice as
she answers Brian Beresford, and there is no
ano^er either. Her answer seems to have burnt
itself out ; but it is in hurt, pained, sad tones
A WANDERING STAR. 6 1
that she responds to the challenge : ** Not
before I had cause, Brian."
She wishes he would not refer to the past —
it won't bear thinking about ; and she, even
she, who has so much to forgive, has for-
gotten it for to-night. She is so often
unhappy that she feels as if it were only fair
that she should have some compensation.
No one could have the heart to grudge her
these few happ}^ minutes, so why should
Brian, of all people, do his best to spoil them ?
She trusted him once : he failed her, and
if her love for him is still, alas ! so great that
it makes her forget his treachery, even she
can see that it will not stand thinking about.
How can he still harp on about it ? and yet
it seems as if he could not leave it alone.
" I don't know what you mean, Vega," is
his answer, and he looks her full in the face.
It is not the face of a traitor, and yet,
surely, he cannot forget.
'* I know I must have done something to
displease you," he goes on, " for you are
quite different to what you used to be. I
can't tell you hov/ sorry I am to have hurt
62 A WANDERING STAR.
you In any way ; but I never could make
out what my fault was. And yet you could
not be unjust or fanciful. Tell me, Vega —
be frank with me — tell me how I have
" Did it seem nothing to you," she asks,
as her large white fan shakes in her trem-
bling fingers, ''that you should have laughed
at and turned me into ridicule to Lady
Hermione ? I know now — and, Indeed, I
knew then — that it was wronof of me to have
deceived them all. I ought never to have
gone down and danced that night without
their knowledge. I ought not to have put
on that mask and domino when you brought
them to me. But one can't always be wise
— and, besides, I was so young, Brian : you
might have remembered that, and you, who
tempted me, should have made some allow-
ance for me. You might have thought of
that before you made a mock of me to her !
— to Lady Hermione, of all people ! Oh,
why did you choose her for your confidante ?
Even Lady Julia, who was always harsh
and violent, and never gave me a kind word
A WANDERING STAR. 63
in her life — even she would not have been
so bad. But Lady Hermione was always
merciless ! "
As Beresford listens to her he is filled
What is she talking about ? and what
does it all mean ? He has not the faintest
clue — he has nothing to guide him. She
accuses him of something- — he knows not
what. Lady Hermione — treachery —
unkindness — how can he read the riddle —
how undo the tangled web ?
He betray Vega to a woman he detested
and distrusted as heartily as he did Lady
Hermione Langton ! What answer can he
make to such a mad accusation ? He sees
that his companion is very much agitated,
that her sweet little face looks white and
drawn ; and he realizes dimly that there
must have been foul play of some kind.
" Tell me, as clearly as you can, what you
mean, Vega," he asks, in a low, but firm,
voice. '' I swear to you I don't know what
you are talking about. / laugh at you, with
Lady Hermione ! / betray you to that
64 A WANDERING STAR.
woman ! I would sooner have cut off my
right hand. You should have known that,
without my saying so. You should have
trusted me a little ; but I suppose you
trusted your enemies Instead, and you lis-
tened to their lies ! "
Vega shakes her head sadly. She is not
suspicious by nature ; but how can she
doubt the truth of the story that Dottle told
her the very day after the masked ball ?
She had been compelled, In spite of herself,
to believe It then ; and a year and a half's
brooding had not shown her how Lady
Hermione could possibly have heard her
secret from any one but Beresford himself.
'* Tell me my faults," he asks again,
impatiently. ** Even a criminal Is allowed
to hear what sin he Is accused of. I must
hear. You must speak out. I, who know
what those two sisters are, know that there
has been foul play somehow. In common
fairness to both of us I must be told ! "
He takes her hand In his, but this time he
is Impelled by no lover-like sentiment ; for
he takes it rather as one encourages a
A WANDERING STAR. 65
frightened child to speak without fear. It is
too serious a moment for him to think of
anything but the subject on hand. Lady
Hermione has borne false witness. Of that
he feels assured ; but he is bound to know
the rights of the story, and then he will give
her the lie direct.
The evening is wearing on. The ball Is
all but over. Already the feet of the
departing guests may be heard in the cor-
ridor ; and In the room where they sit may
be distinguished the roll of wheels, the
stamping of impatient horses, loud voices in
the street, and all the bustle that betokens
the end of all things. Beresford feels that
there is no time to be lost : before they part
he must have found out what it all means.
He comes nearer his companion, and he still
holds her hand. They are a lover-like pair,
and woe betide them if Lady Hautaine's
cold, fishy eyes, or Lady Hermlone's bold
black ones, spy them out at this moment.
Kinder eyes light on them, however, and,
fortunately, they belong to Miss Charley Mos-
sop, who is hastening back to the ballroom
VOL. in. F
66 A WANDERING STAR.
as If she could not afford to lose a moment,
although she has danced Incessantly the whole
evening, talked at the same rate, and even
kept moving between dances, at moments
when weaker or more languid people like to
rest, and when those Inclined to flirtation
look out for some lonely corner where a
solitude a deux can be found !
But she has not hunted three days a week
since the season began for nothing ; and her
condition Is perfect. In the words of her
favourite and most congenial partner, **she
has not turned a hair to-night," and she
looks as lively, bouncing, and jovial as she
did five and a half hours ago, when the
night was still young. She and a red-
coated gentleman tore downstairs not five
minutes ago for a little supper ; but the first
notes of " The Foxhunter's Galop " have
recalled them to a sense of duty, and they
now come along the corridor In double-quick
. *' They've found ; we must get a good
start," are the exact words of her partner, as
they hurry over the ground, rejoicing In the
A WANDERING STAR. 67
prospect of a half-empty ball-room and good
As they stamp along the passage, their
feet keeping time already to the swing of the
music, Miss Charley looks, with no malice
prepense, through the half-open door of the
room where Beresford and Vega are sitting.
The latter is attracted by the sound of
merry and, it must be confessed, loud and
noisy voices, and sees Miss Mossop looking at
her. She is never very good at standing fire,
and the bright colour rushes suddenly to the
cheeks that were so pale but a moment ago.
It is too bad that she should blush, for she
has nothing to blush for ; but it is the
expression of her sister-in-law's eyes that
calls up that lovely flag of distress. Miss
Mossop stands there for a minute at least,
forgetting that her partner waxes impatient,
that she is losing some bars of her favourite
galop, and that both bandsmen and dancers
are at this moment chanting the exploits of
John Peel ! Her vigorous voice would ere
now have swelled the chorus, and her ''view
halloa " would have been as true, if not quite
6S A WANDERING STAR.
as loud as her companion's ; but something
sobers her for the moment ; she is sorry to see
Vega looking quite as she does, and It strikes
her that she is far too pretty and too young
to be left to her own devices. She is but
a child in Miss Mossop's eyes, and the latter
is far too sensible, as well as too '' good a
fellow," to take it for granted that because
the girl is married therefore she does not
need a friendly hand.
She shakes her head — a friendly, but
warning shake — and Vega sees her good-
humoured face grow serious all of a sudden ;
but Miss Mossop passes on, for there is
nothing else for her to do. But before she
joins the excited dancers, who are tearing
down the long room as if their lives
depended on their haste, she says one word
to her brother, who, sleepy but still im-
portant, is standing near the door shaking
hands with tired dowagers and Irate fathers
w^ho have at last succeeded in collecting
their troublesome flocks, and who are deter-
mined ** not to keep the horses waiting any
longer ! "
A WANDERING STAR. 69
** Albert," says Miss Mossop In a discreet
whisper, " I see all the best people are gone
now. There are only a few of the towns-
people remaining, and I really think It Is
high time that we should be off too. The
Conholt party went half an hour ago,
and so did Lady Gornaway." (Wise Miss
Charley ! she knows how to get what she
wants, or rather what she thinks right.)
" No ! no ! I don't want to dance this.
I have had enough now, and I think we had
better be collecting our party. I will go
and tell Mrs. Albert that you think It Is
time to depart."
Her partner looks black, her brother
feebly proposes that they should wait just
for this last dance ; but the man who is
nearer fifty than forty Is, as a rule, easily
persuaded that a ball Is over when the
dissipated hour of 4 a.m. has been reached.
Even were Mr. Mossop enjoying himself, he
would be eager to be off If he knew for
certain that the best people had gone — as it
Is he can think of home and bed with a clear
70 A WANDERING STAR.
*' Well ! good night, Mr. Stokes," says
Miss Mossop, in loud, cheerful tones, shaking
warmly by the hand her disappointed partner.
** I will look out for Vega, Albert, and you
will find us both at the cloak-room door in
two minutes." Miss Mossop is as good as
her word : Vega is told that it is time to
start, and her agitating conversation with
Brian is abruptly brought to an end, for
Miss Mossop seems possessed with the • idea
that the party once collected should keep
together, and she allows of no stragglers.
A few minutes' delay at the entrance
gives Beresford a chance of another word,
in spite of her well-meant efforts, while
Mr. Mossop, somewhat red in the face
and excited (for like some of the other
gentlemen of the hunt he has supped freely
two or three times), stumps fussily about,
calling loudly for '' my footman," '^ my
people," and much annoyed that there is
some delay in finding '* my carriage."
Brian speaks low to Vega, and about the
earnestness of his tones there can be no
doubt. ** I must know what you meant by
A WANDERING STAR. 7 1
what you said to-night. You are bound to
tell me of what I am accused. How can
it be done ? "
Vega makes no answer for a moment,
though a wild hope springs into life that Brian
may be innocent after all, and how joyful such
a possibility makes her no one can say. But
she is bound to be misunderstood, for her
charming smile as she looks up at him and
whispers '' you must ask Dottie, — she can
tell you," is seen by her sister-in-law, who
unfortunately does not hear the words ; but
that sweet look gives her food for serious
reflection as they drive home to The
72 A WANDERING STAR.
"How you do run on, Pussie ! " says
Dottie Langton to her sister, as she bustles
about the bedroom at Conholt that they
share In common, " and how prying you are,
to be sure. What do you see so very
extraordinary In my going out for a walk
to-day ? Aren't we expected, even com-
manded, to drag about out of doors the
whole afternoon ? Didn't Aunt Julia tell the
Mums, In that frank, horrid way she always
talks, that she ought to keep us out all day
long, In hopes that It might Improve our
looks ? ' The fresh air might bring a little
colour to poor Pussle's lanthorn jaws, and
Dottle, who Is as broad as she's long, and,
between you and I, very coarse, can't have
enough exercise.' That was what she said
no further back than yesterday, so pray may
I ask you why you should be surprised if I
A WANDERING STAR. 73
go for a long walk on the off chance of my
figure being improved in the process — what
they call fined down ? "
Dottie Langton's tirade here ends abruptly,
for the duties of the toilette call for a steady
hand and great attention on her part, and
she cannot afford to let her tongue run on
at the same time.
She is like Jezebel, tiring herself at the
window, and is standing in front of a small
shabby looking-glass which is all that
Conholt Park can afford in the shape of a
mirror for the Misses Langton's bedroom.
She certainly seems extremely busy. The
room, which is dingy, stuffy, and shabbily
furnished, is littered with her clothes, which
sprawl in a life-like fashion on the chairs,
or are flung carelessly on the floor. It is
more like a kitchenmaid's room than that
of a young lady, and the toilette-table,
whose dirty cover is a mass of hairpins,
pots of pomatum, face powder, shady-look-
ing brushes and combs, and bottles of cheap
scent, carries out the idea.
Dottie has been powdering her nose ; she
74 A WANDERING STAR.
now tries some experiments with her eyes ;
and then a long stick of pinky, sticky stuff,
which she has managed to purloin from her
mother's room, is rubbed on her lips till they
shine with grease and give a Jewish expres-
sion to her somewhat swarthy countenance.
The dark, heavy masses of her long hair
have been piled so high on her head that
she positively looks top-heavy, and at the
same time they turn her into an almost
comical caricature of Lady Julia drawn by
some malicious hand. But Dottie is satisfied
with the result of her labours, and smiles to
herself as she sticks some florid gilt pins
among the shining coils.
" I don't ask what takes you out," says
Pussie, in cross, querulous tones, from the
bed, on which a great deal besides blankets
and sheets seem to be piled pell-mell ;
a flannel petticoat is tied round her head,
for poor Pussie is a martyr to faceache and
neuralgia, and the yellow folds of the gar-
ment, pinned on anyhow, is not a becoming
setting to the pinched little face which has
certainly a good excuse now to look
A WANDERING STAR. 75
peevish and miserable ; but I want to know
who you are getting yourself up for in
this ridiculous way ? / know how you
go out of doors on ordinary occasions.
You fling yourself into Aunt Julias old
fur jacket that was cut down for you last
winter : why ! you don't even take the
trouble to lace up your boots properly,
you just tie them on anyhow, and then you
put on that awful sailor hat, and you're off.
Now, to-day, it's quite sickening to see you
powdering, and curling, and making yourself
up, grinning at yourself all the time in the
looking-glass. And what do I see next?"
And here Pussie forgets her maladies, and
struggles into an upright position in bed, the
flannel petticoat hanging like a mantle round
her, while her thin bony arm is stretched
forth, as if denouncing some iniquity of her
sister's. ** Dottie ! how dare you ? Take
off that hat at once ! " for Dottie has
crowned her black locks with a feathered
hat of exaggerated smartness, which, indeed,
had been a failure of Lady Julia's, who had
literally flung it at Pussie's head when the
7^ A WANDERING STAR.
great lady had made up her mind that It did
not suit herself.
*'Take it off! take It off!" reiterates
Pussie, her bloodless little face looking
viciously at her sister, '* or I shall get out of
bed and tear it from your head ! "
" Let me wear it this one afternoon," says
Dottie, in tones a vast deal more dulcet than
her sister is usually favoured with ; '* just this
afternoon," she pleads, " and I will do any-
thing you like in return — fag for you, bring
you up tea half a dozen times in the day if
you want it — get hold of some of the down-
stairs novels when Aunt Julia and all the
visitors are out — if you will only let me wear
your hat this once."
Dottie looks at herself fondly in the glass,
then at the door, to see if she can carry her
point by taking to her heels ; but she elects
to win by fair means, if possible.
'' And why on earth should you wear my
best hat .-^ " asks Pussie, wrathfully ; ''you
look a perfect fright in it Into the bargain.
What is the reason of all this finery ? "
" If I tell you," says Dottie, springing to
A WANDERING STAR. "J"]
the side of the bed with the bound of an
overgrown puppy, " will you let me keep it
on ? I had never meant to tell a human
being, but if you will lend me your hat, and
also promise solemnly not to tell a soul — not
even Jane — you shall hear."
Pussie has been devoured with curiosity
for the last half hour, and takes the bait, all
the more freely because she feels that in a
hand-to-hand encounter to-day she would be
worsted by an enemy who could always
carry the point by instant flight.
" Well, go on then," she says, sullenly,
" I can't fight with you any longer."
''Then be prepared to open your eyes as
wide as they will go," answers Dottle, swell-
ing with pride and importance. '' I am golno-
down the glen to meet Brian Beresford ! "
''To meet Brian Beresford!" repeats
Pussie, in tones of utter unbelief. " What
rubbish you are talking. You must have
gone mad, or else you think that I am out of
my mind. I suppose the next thing will be
that you will tell me he asked you to meet
78 A WANDERING STAR.
" So he did — so he did ! " says Dottle, her
beady black eyes sparkling with joy.
'' / dont believe it ! " answers Pussie, sink-
ing back on her pillow with a sigh of relief
on having, as she thought, solved the prob-
lem in those four words.
" You don't ! Oh, don't you ? You are
an unbelieving Jew ; but I suppose you will
believe your own eyes — look here ! " and out
of her sister's pocket comes a crumpled
note, which she holds out, so that the
invalid can read the few words written on
the sheet without the precious document
leaving Dottie's own hands. She cannot
trust Pussie with it entirely, but she lets
her read for herself.
" Dear Miss Dottie,
" If you are doing nothing this afternoon, will you
come to the glen about three o'clock. I have an important
question that I am very anxious to ask you, and I have
no chance of seeing you alone in the house.
Pussie's jealous little soul is stirred within
A WANDERING STAR. 79
''And you think he is going to propose
to you, Miss Dottie, do you ? " she asks,
shrilly. '' But let me tell you that he won't.
No ! not if you had twenty new hats on ! —
Not if you were in a desert island alone with
him for the rest of your days ! "
'' All right, Pussie, don't excite yourself
about it ! " says Dottie, who can afford to
laugh. '' He won't then ! Who ever said
he would ? Not I, at any rate. But, mind
you, Pussie, it's me he wants to see, and not
you. Well, I must be off, for I don't want
to keep him waiting, so good-bye," — and
Dottie dashes from the room, pursued by
shrieks from Pussie to shut the door, a
request of which she takes no notice, and
which it does not enter her head for an
instant that she should turn back and obey.
Dottie has never kept a tryst before, for
the simple reason that no one has ever had
any particular desire to meet her anywhere ;
had she been so bidden, she would assuredly
have been held back by no far-fetched ideas
of propriety. She has an hereditary bias to
stray; indeed her feet would almost carry her
8o A WANDERING STAR.
of themselves down any path they should not
tread ; but she is saved by what has saved
so many — she has never been tempted 1
No wonder, then, that, with such a disposi-
tlon to roam, she feels indeed fluttered, and
her heart beats as she steals — almost os-
tentatiously — out of the house, and runs
down the glen to meet the man who has
always been her type of manly beauty, and
who has often, little as he is aware of it,
figured as the hero of her waking and sleep-
She does not in her heart of hearts
imagine he is going to propose to her,
though she had not quite pooh-poohed the
notion when her sister had taxed her with
the mad idea ; but she is overjoyed that at
least he has asked her to meet him, and the
thought makes her bound and curvet along
the narrow path in a manner a good deal
resembling the pranks and gambols of a
frisky young elephant.
Poor Dottle would indeed have been
crestfallen could she have known how hard
Brian finds it to suppress a laugh when she
A WANDERING STAR. 8 1
appears on the scene. As so often happens,
her efforts at adornment had not been
crowned with success ; the Paris hat, with its
waving plumes — which would have looked
loud, and eccentric on the head of some
leader of fashion on the beach of a gay
watering-place where gaudy dressing was
the order of the day — contrasts in the most
comical manner with the rest of the girl's
apparel, and makes the mangy fur coat,
which has already done yeoman's service, and
the shabby and ill-hung skirt appear worse
than they need have looked had the head-
gear not been quite so ambitious ! Dottie's
highly-coloured face under the rainbow-hued
hat becomes almost purple with excitement
as she comes up to Beresford, who is wait-
ing for her on the rustic bridge that spans
the Con, a sluggish stream which is wider
than a brook, but not important enough to
be dignified by the name of river.
" Dottie, my dear," he says, taking her
hand as she nears him — and there is a fra-
ternal ring in his voice which disappoints
her, and knocks on the head her unacknow-
VOL. III. G
82 A WANDERING STAR.
ledged hope that a more tender feeHng had
prompted him to ask her to meet him — '' it is
very good of you to come and meet me here.
Thank you very much, dear. You see I am
very anxious to have a talk with you about
something. You know what it is at Con-
holt ; I never set eyes on you, or, if I do, you
and Pussie are sitting side by side, hke two
prisoners out on ticket-of-leave. Not much
chance of getting a word with you alone,
which is what I want now."
Dottie, alas ! sees that she must give up
all idea of ever so mild a flirtation on her
own account, but, failing that, she takes a
certain amount of pride in thinking that
Brian wants help of some kind from her, and
she is ready and willing to give it if she can.
Her black eyes look up quite honestly into
his handsome face, and her voice has a true
ring as she says, —
*' I don't know what you want me to tell
you, Brian, but if I can help you in any way
" That's right, Dottie. I know you will be
straight with me, and that is all I want,"
A WANDERING STAR. S^
answers Brian, as the two stand side by side,
leanlne over the wooden rail of the rustic
bridge, their eyes fixed on the dark waters
that flow slowly and almost without a mur-
mur under their feet. '' I want to ask you
a fair question. It is one that Vega says
you are able to answer, and it is one which
concerns me very deeply. She has been told
some lies about me ; she has heard that I
laughed at her, made fun of her, held her up
to ridicule to — your mother and Lady Julia;
that I betrayed her, as she calls it, and calls
it rightly, were I capable of anything so low.
I may have many faults, but I have never
been accused of beino; false before. Now I
want to find out what it all means, and she
says you can tell me. The whole business
is imagined to have taken place about the
time of the masked ball — the very night of
it, for all I know."
" I will tell you all I know about it,
Brian, as Vega wishes me to do so, for I
was mixed up in the business, though it is
only quite lately it has dawned on me that
they used me to carry out their own ends.
84 A WANDERING STAR.
The very day after that ball I was told I
was to go out driving with the Mums and
Aunt Ju. This surprised me at the time, I
remember, for they are not particularly
anxious for my company In general. How-
ever, I went, and then they began talking
over the ball, abusing all the women, and
laughing at everybody. You know how
they talk — every one, I mean, not Aunt Ju
and the Mums alone. Then they began to
speak about you, and the Mums told Bijou
a long story about some mysterious black
domino you had danced all night with. Aunt
Ju got scarlet, and she looked furious, and
then the Mums told her that she needn't
mind, for you had told her yourself that this
unknown lady was horrible, though she was
very pretty, otherwise you couldn't have
stood her. The Mums said that, try as you
liked, you declared that you couldn't shake
her off — that you had danced with her, and
taken her to supper, and then she had made
you go and sit with her in the rose-garden
till you felt you would have given anything
in the world to be able to get away.
A WANDERING STAR. S^
" I remember the very words the Mums
used — ' Brian says, 'he is glad that marble
dancing-girl in your garden, Julia, can tell
no tales, for even he was shocked at the
conduct of his companion."' The Mums
and Aunt Julia said a good deal more that I
don't remember ; and they did not whisper,
as they usually do when we are about.
They didn't seem to care whether I heard or
not. It was very unlike them to let nie
hear anything they didn't want me to knew
The Mums always has her wits about her,
and so has Bijou, except when she is in a
rage, when she will say the first thing that
comes into her head. I can't make it out ;
and I have thought, now and then, that they
must have been talking a^ me all the time,
and that it was to let me hear it all that they
took me out drivinof with them. I believe
they made a tool of me, and that I tumbled
headlong into the trap. If I didn't think it
was so, I swear to you, Brian, that you
should never have heard a word of this from
me. As it was, I did what I expect they
intended me to do. I went home, and told
S6 A WANDERING STAR.
all they had said to Vega, and I believe I
nearly killed her by doing so. It is a long
time ago now ; but I remember the look
that came into her face when I repeated the
story to her and Pussie. She was looking
so happy and so lovely as 1 came into the
school room that I was quite struck by it.
Her face had that angelic expression that it
used sometimes to have when she first came
to us. I haven't seen her look like that for
a long time now. Well, I dashed in, full of
all I had heard, thinking I should astonish
them with what I had to tell, and began at
once. Vega never said a word all the time
— no, not even when I had finished ; and I
turned round in surprise and looked at her.
She hadn't one bit of colour in her face, and
I thought she was going to faint, but she
seemed to recover herself after a minute or
two ; and then she looked at me, and, after
that look, I didn't need to be told what it all
meant — that it was Vega herself Avho had
been disguised, and Vega who had shocked
and astonished even you by her extra-
ordinary conduct. It was hard to believe
A WANDERING STAR. Sj
then ; and I may tell you that I didn't
believe it for long. As sure as I am
standing here, I know I was taken in
somehow ; though how, or for what reason,
I don't exactly understand."
Dottie has told her story without drawing
breath, and without any Interruption on the
part of her companion. He does not even
speak when she has done ; and he keeps
silence for so long that the girl grows quite
oppressed by It.
Everything is curiously still around them.
From the winter woods come no sound : all
is dull and lifeless — withered branches and
dead leaves ; while the water that glides
between sedgy banks and mossy stones
flows on, black and shining, without a
murmur. At the bend of the river a
watchful heron looks as if It were cut out of
wood, and no other living thing Is to be seen
or heard. A grey mist Is creeping up, the
valley and making everything damp, dank,
and sodden. The short January day will
soon be done, and the little light there is
will go suddenly. But Brian sees nothing —
SS A WANDERING STAR.
hears nothing ; and but one thought fills his
mind, to the exclusion of all else.
It Is that Vega. — his little \'ega — the girl
whom he adored — should believe that he
had slandered her — lied about her foully —
and on the very nlcrht when she had so
Innocently trusted him — when they had
been happier than he, at least, ever was,
before or since.
Brian knows that she loved him then,
and he now knows that, proud and hlgh-
splrlted and sensitive as she Is, it was
no wonder that, In the first revulsion of
feeling, she should have taken the only
step that seemed open to her to give the
lie to his words.
On his head would be all the unhappiness
that must be the result of such an Impossible
marrlao^e as the one Into which she had been
practically forced — but, no ! not on his head,
but on the heads of those who had plotted
against them both. He sees her as Dottle
describes her — with her lovely face looking
like an angel's : that was before the blow
had fallen ; and then he thinks of the
A WANDERING STAR. 89
change that came over her after she heard
that he was unworthy.
And what had she done — what had either
of them done to be so tortured ? What had
Lady Hermlone to gain by her machina-
tions ? Lady Julia's motives he can under-
stand better — "jealousy is cruel as the
grave" — but Lady Hermione, who only
plays for her own hand, who would only
help her own sister for ''value received" —
how can it have furthered any plans of
One thing only is certain — Vega has been
the victim : it is his happiness and hers
that they have wrecked between them ; and
he leans his head on his hands, and Dottie
hears him murmur, "Oh, my little Vega!
my lost Vega ! "
It is a bitter moment for Brian. Even
when he believed Vega to be heartless, and
to have sold herself for money and position,
he had loved her in spite of himself : how
much more now that he knows her to be an
innocent victim, sacrificed by those unscru-
pulous sisters with as little compunction as
90 A WANDERING STAR.
one might brush away a fly, or trample the
life out of a worm.
His blood boils ; and it is all the harder
for him that he feels his hands are prac-
tically tied at present. He cannot tell
Dottie what he thinks of her mother's evil
deeds : he cannot make her the judge of
Lady Julia's actions.
But he turns, at last, to his companion.
*' We have been pretty badly used among
them all," he says, trying, but vainly, to
make his voice sound like his own, and to
speak in steady, even tones, ''and I don't
think there is much more mischief left for
them to do. I needn't tell you, Dottie, that
I am innocent. You wouldn't be here, I
know, my child, if you thought me such a
brute as they tried to make me out. But
you must understand clearly that not one
word of their story is true — not one syllable.
I never had the conversation that they
credited me with — it Is all invention, pure
and simple, from beginning to end. You
must tell that to Vega when you go to stay
with her — but, no ! you needn't do so. She
A WANDERING STAR. 9 1
must hear it from my own lips. One word
more, my dear, before we part. I believe
you are a real good sort, Dottie, though you
haven't the credit of it. Well, I beg of you,
as the greatest favour I can ask you, if ever
you see poor Vega in need of a helping
hand, that you will hold out yours ; and if
you think that any one is trying to do her
harm, that you will do your best to outwit
"You are clever and sharp, and some day
you might have it in your power to save
her from a danger that one can't foresee now.
She is more friendless than any one I know.
Promise me that you will stand her friend,
For all answer Dottie holds out her hand
in its shabby dogskin glove. Brian takes
it in his, and then, as if to make the promise
more binding still, he kisses her quietly on
the lips. Even she cannot think that there
is anything lover-like in that kiss ; it is the
ratification of a solemn bond between them,
and as such she considers it.
It is nearly dark as she and Beresford
92 A WANDERING STAR.
walk Up the glen on their road home, and
the mist that seems actually to rise out of
the ground on all sides of them wraps up
everything in Its grey mantle. Here and
there the black trunk of some leafless tree
stands out, though blurred and indistinct in
outline ; but the river is only a streak of
mist, and its opposite banks are effaced
altogether. The damp night air strikes chill
and unwholesome ; the gayest might feel de-
pressed by the heaviness of the atmosphere,
but Brian walks as if in a dream. He
vStrldes along, and his companion, who has
some trouble in keeping up with him at all,
does not care to break the current of his
sorrowful thoughts. He Is for the time
being forgetful of everything but " what
might have been ; " of all reflections as-
suredly the most bitter, and he hardly knows
what he Is about or whither he goes.
He certainly does not hear the sound of
footsteps coming along the path in his direc-
tion ; but Dottle — who has the ear of a red
Indian and the eye of a hawk, and who, like
the animals who have only their own wits to
A WANDERING STAR. 93
depend on, Is always on the alert — catches
not only the first footfall, but also spies
between the trees, where the path takes a
sudden bend, the tall figure of a woman,
which the instinct of self-preservation at
once points out must be either her mother
or Lady Julia.
There is no time to be lost if Dottie
wishes to avoid an encounter with one or
other of them ; but she has not been obliged
to look out for herself for so long without
being ready for most emergencies. " Brian,"
she says, hurriedly, " here's some one coming.
It's the Mums, I think ; and I will be so
badgered if I am found out at this hour with
you that I think I had better be off. Don't
mind me ; I would know my way through
these woods blindfolded."
He has hardly time to follow her hasty
speech, and the words she quickly jerks out
are barely out of her mouth, before the girl
plunges down the hill, following one of those
narrow tracks that always seem mysteriously
to run through large woods, and Is lost
to sight among the tangle of brambles and
94 A WANDERING STAR.
bracken and lady-fern which grows nearly
as high as herself. If she wishes to elude
observation she has not a minute in hand,
for the withered bracken has hardly snapped
beneath her feet before Beresford finds him-
self face to face with Lady Hermione. The
lady may not have any particular motive for
wandering in the glen so late ; it may have
been accident that has brought her thither ;
at the same time, she generally has a reason
for everything, and blind chance seldom
directs her footsteps !
But she is active as few other women are
active, though her dearest friends laugh as
they assert that the laudable wish to keep
her beautiful and still youthful figure ac-
counts for a good deal of her love for the
open air, and her zeal for long country
walks. It is impossible to say what her
motive is for being afoot so late to-night,
and Brian does not try to discover.
*' Brian! — you here of all people!" says
her ladyship, mirthfully, as the two stand
face to face in the narrow path. *' I wonder
what brings you to the glen at this hour,
A WANDERING STAR. 95
and what you have been up to. You have
something on hand, my dear boy, or I am
very much mistaken. You wern't alone a
minute ago, that's certain. I heard voices, and
I saw a woman's figure — rdternal feminin
— one can never get beyond it ; but I can't
think what you have done with your com-
panion. I don't beheve a cat could get
through this brushwood. Well, she's gone,
that's the chief thing, and I am quite sure
you won't tell me who she is ! "
Lady Hermione's remark is ill-timed ;
Brian's eye flashes. '' You may be quite
sure of that. Lady Hermione," he answers,
bitterly. " You have been so kind as to
interfere with me and my affairs enough as
it is. I owe yoLi a debt, whether of gratitude
or not I leave you to judge ! "
"You are talking in riddles, Brian!" re-
turns her ladyship, lightly laying her slim
fingers on his arm as she speaks. The
action seems half fun, half friendliness on her
part, but it is ill received, for he shakes, off
her hand angrily. ''You are so highflown
to-night I can't pretend to follow you, and
96 A WANDERING STAR.
one really can't discuss Impossible subjects
in a thick fog. Come, be a good boy, and
be pleasant. I will walk home with you, and
you shall tell me all the news. It Is tempt-
ing Providence to stand talking here In this
horrible mist," and the slim, graceful woman
affects to shiver as she draws scanty furs
closer round her slender throat. " Come on,
come on ! "
''By all means, if you will have It so,'*
returns Brian grimly, as they walk side by
side along the narrow path, '' for I have a
question or two to ask you, and there Is no
time like the present. Answer me fairly.
Lady Hermione, if you can. Why did you
try to poison Vega FItzpatrIck s mind against
me ? What was your motive for meddling In
the matter at all ? I know all the details of
the business, and all you said and did. I will
spare you them, but I am devoured with
curiosity on one point : What reason had
you ? You are a clever woman, and there Is
reason In all you do ! What was It in this
case ? "
Reason ! She had reason enough for all
A WANDERING STAR. 97
she had done ! Does gratified spite count
for nothing ? Is it not wise and prudent to
look ahead and oust a rival before she
becomes too dangerous, and friendly to help,
as far as possible, her sister's desperate
efforts to keep her lover, if it can be
done at no cost to herself but the triflinof
sacrifice of honour, and justice, and
Was it not money that tempted Judas to
betray his Master ; and was he the last who
took the price of blood ?
What about the cheque that had passed
hands between the sisters ? and had not Lady
Hermione won her bet fairly ?
She is the last woman to forget the many
motives she had for wishing to get rid of the
beautiful friendless girl, whose presence at
Conholt angered her, and who might possibly
have clashed with her own interest and
All is fair in love or war to a woman of
Lady Hermione's stamp, and she does not
regret ; on the contrary, she rejoices in all she
VOL. in. H
qS a wandering star.
'' How tragic you are, Brian," says her
ladyship, In tones of ahiiost exaggerated care-
lessness, as she swings along at his side, her
step as light and elastic as If she was seven-
teen. Her weight of sins do not oppress
her physically, and her conviction that
Beresford has found her out. In one of them
at least, sits lightly on her also ; ''and about
such a trifle ! Why, my dear boy, the reason
is pretty evident. We — Julia and your
humble servant — did 3^ou the best turn you
ever had done you In your life when we put
a stop to all that folly between you and Miss
Vega. I don't deny that we helped on the
Mossop marriage, and I am not ashamed of
saying so. I call It a real good action ; and
I only wish every penniless girl could find a
rich, good-natured husband as easily as she
did. She ought to be the happiest woman
in Blankshire, and when I think of who and
what she was, I am simply surprised that
things have turned out as well for her as they
'' And In your school I suppose that love
counts for nothing ? " asks Brian bitterly.
A WANDERING STAR. 99
** In Strict confidence, I must confess that
I don't think it counts for much," answers
Lady Hermione, with cynical frankness.
*' When it does, I have invariably found that
by every law, human and divine, it ought not
to exist at all. ' The light loves in the
portals ' have a curious way of frequently
outlasting more serious affections. In plain
words, I don't think the love that is blessed by
the Church stands the test of time particularly
well. I am sure it hardly ever does when
there is no money to make things pleasant
all round. There is a good deal of friction
about a family coach : the wheels must be
well greased if it is to run at all smoothly.
At its best it is but a cumbrous, old-fashioned
machine, and one that a good many people
would give their eyes to get out of if they
could only manage it. You are silent, Brian !
You are mad because you were not allowed
to make a fool of yourself, and that 'we
married Vega to a rich vulgarian instead of
to a poor gentleman ; but you are still in the
* twenties,' my dear boy ! Young blood runs
hot, and the day will come when you will
lOO A WANDERING STAR.
know what we have saved you both from.
Who should be a better judge than I ? I
married a pauper, for love, if you choose to
call it by that name, and was miserable in
consequence, and I am certain so was he.
Of one thing you may rest assured — a state
of poverty is not a state of grace ! "
Lady Hermione talks glibly, and with all
the assurance of one who knows her subject,
and certainly a better guide to all the mean-
nesses, shifts, and sordid expedients incum-
bent on a gilded pauper could not be
Her talk, however, has but little effect on
her hearer. She cannot throw enough dust in
his eyes to blind him to her conduct. He
had always heartily disliked her, and now
he positively hates her ; but he feels that
reproaches, arguments, are thrown away on
such a woman. She laughs at the mischief
she has done, and takes high ground when
he taxes her with it. She is wiser ; she is
older; she has gone through the mill herself;
she has saved him from certain misery ; he
will be grateful in time !
A WANDERING STAR. 101
That time is a long way off, and in the
meantime he will leave her to her own con-
science, if it is possible to believe she is
possessed of one !
I02 A WANDERING STAR.
" Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone :
Kindness in another's trouble ;
Courage in your own."
" Oh ! it is too delightful to be here with
you, Vega! Just fancy, I might at this
moment have been in the schoolroom at
Conholt. Pussie Is there, I suppose, doubled
over the fire, as usual, reading one of the
Bow Bell's Novelettes. Don't you know how
she looks ? You haven't forgotten our ghastly
evenings up there, have you ? Thank
heavens, I shan't be back for the next day
or two, at any rate ! One does feel different
here," and Dottle, whose material little mind
does not often run on any thing beyond
mere physical comfort and well-being, nestles
among the velvet cushions of the Inglenook
A WANDERING STAR. IO3
in the entrance hall of The Towers with an
air of actual happiness.
She has just been sent over from Conholt
to pay her long-talked-of visit there, and
she and Vega are alone, for though it is six
o'clock Mr. Mossop and Charley are not
yet back from hunting. Dottie is certainly
a most satisfactory guest, for she is pleased
with everything — she is glad to be again
with Vega, and to have her to herself just
now — but she enjoys to the full the warmth
of the great logs blazing on the hearth, the
comfort of her snug corner, and also, it must
be confessed, she appreciates the thick cream
in her tea, the hot cakes, the muffins, and all
the good things to which she helps herself
with such a liberal hand !
The life of privation in the midst of
plenty, to which she and Pussie have been
condemned all their lives, has by no means
fostered Spartan tastes in her. On . the
contrary, she is luxurious and greedy, and
fine clothes, good food, even warm and
luxurious rooms, make her positively
104 A WANDERING STAR.
She Is radiant ; she thinks of the Conholt
schoolroom with contempt, and of Pussle as
a kind of poor relation, trying to blink the
fact that she will be back to them both In
a week at latest ; but she Is the typical
beggar on horseback, and means to enjoy
to the full the goods the gods have provided
in the meantime.
Vega, who got accustomed to the girl's
ways a long time ago, and who since Dottle
had softened to her has become quite fond
of her, is delighted as she looks at her and
sees the broad smile that illumines her
usually sulky, beetle-browed countenance.
" Oh ! Dottle," she says merrily, '' it seems
like old times to see your face again. I am
so glad they let you come over to us."
''It was a near thing," says Dottle, her
mouth full of muffin; "but the Mums
couldn't resist the temptation of getting rid
of me for a week, otherwise I shouldn't
have been here now. She was mad with
me about something or other. She didn't
tell me In so many words what it was, but
J can guess as wdl as the Mums herself.
A WANDERING STAR, IO5
■when it comes to guessing, though it's
wonderful how a straw can show her how
the wind blows. She Is clever ! Even the
fact of my wearing Pussle's hat " but
here Dottle breaks off abruptly.
''What about Pussle's hat?" asks Vega,
laughing. Dottle's chatter makes her feel
younger than she has done for long.
"Oh! nothing, nothing," says the other,
hastily, opening out a fresh subject with a
certain amount of craft.
" Now," says Vega, after the girls have
talked for some time, and Dottle has nearly
cleared the board, " I want you to come up
to your room with me, Dottle. You may
come down again before dinner if you like,
but I want to show you something up there."
So they run up the fine oak staircase, and
along softly carpeted corridors, whose walls
are hung with dingy portraits of men in
armour, and of men In wigs, of ladles in
alarmingly low cut dresses, and of simpering
family groups, all of whom do duty as Mr.
Mossop's ancestors, till they come to a
pretty little room, which looks all blue
I06 A WANDERING STAR.
forget-me-nots and pink roses, and where a
warm fire Is burning brightly.
*'0h! how delightful," says Dottle, with
a sigh of rapture. " Oh ! Vega ! do you
remember our bedrooms at Conholt," and
she shudders as she thinks of their
dreariness ; '^ but what Is all this ? " she
asks, as she makes one of her well-known
bounds in the direction of the dressing-
table ; '' who do all these lovely things
belong to ? "
She takes up first a blue velvet case, in
which reposes a pretty little watch, set in a
bracelet, and her eyes glitter. " Why ! this is
fit for a queen," and then she seizes an old
paste waist-buckle — a buckle such as she has
longed for vainly, and wished for loudly, for
the I'ast two years at least.
" Oh ! how lovely, and what a sash," as
she unfolds some broad pale blue ribbon,
and then seizes a satin sachet full of the
daintiest of handkerchiefs.
There Is even a beautifully arranged spray
of gardenias and maidenhair lying beside
the other things.
A WANDERING STAR. lO/
''What does all this mean? You have
brought me to the wrong room, Vega.
Who do all these lovely things belong
"All to you, Dottle," answers the other,
feeling almost for the first time since her
marriage that riches can really give her a
certain amount of pleasure.
" For me ! " repeats the other. " Oh !
no! not for me," and Dottie hurls her-
self on her companion's neck, and there
are tears in her eyes as she speaks her
thanks. *' I am not accustomed to pre-
sents," she says at last, as if to excuse
her unusual outburst of feeling. "You
know no one but Uncle Regie ever brings
us presents, and it is a sad fact, but
quite true, that a man somehow never
gives one quite what one wants. We
have had plenty of boxes of chocolate in
our day from the young men who come
to Conholt, but they were not what we
call free-will offerings ; they were a kind
of tribute paid to Aunt Julia, and though
we were very glad to get them, they
I08 A WANDERING STAR.
never pleased us very much ; but these
things . Oh ! Vega ! you have tried to
think what I would like. You really have
wanted to give me pleasure. It is too
sweet of you," and once more she leaps
up at her companion's face, and covers it
with grateful kisses.
There is nothing to be done downstairs,
so Vega lingers with Dottie while the latter
unpacks her scanty stock of clothes. It
amuses her to see her visitor as she shakes
out the folds of her oft-washed white muslin
frock, and tries the effect of the new blue
sash on it. She is like a child with a new
toy : she slips it on, she drags it off, she pins,
ties, pulls and pats it, till she has the broad
ends of ribbon to her liking, and then like a
miser, who visits his hoards In succession,
she turns her attention to her buckle. She
puts it on a ribbon, which she girds round
her sturdy waist, and, her arms being bare,
the pretty curb chain bracelet, with Its tiny
enamelled watch, must be tried on next ; for-
tunately Dottle's arms are her strong point,
and really pretty and well-shaped, though on
A WANDERING STAR. IO9
rather too large a scale, so she Is delighted
with the effect of the ornament that looks
so well, and clings so tightly. She dashes
about the room in the highest spirits, and
when finally she sinks into a luxurious arm-
chair in front of the blazlnof fire with her
new toys on her knee, and the huge satin
sachet on the table at her elbow, waitlnof Its
turn of inspection, she feels her cup of bliss
is full !
'• How late they are out," says Vega,
at last, referring to her husband and her
sister-in-law. " The meet was a long way
off to-day, but I have never seen them as
late as this before. I hope nothing has
There Is a certain amount of concern in
the tone In which she speaks, but no great
anxiety. It would never occur to her to be
anxious about her husband, and as for Miss
Mossop, she knows she Is able to take- un-
commonly good care of herself.
There Is a pause ; Vega listens with a
certain amount of eagerness for the sound
of wheels, and Dottle, lulled In luxurious
no A WANDERING STAR.
repose, Is lazily watching the fire and her
companion alternately. She has actually
held her peace for a good many minutes^
when she at last breaks the silence with a
** Tell me, Vega, have you seen Brian
Beresford lately ? "
The words make her start, and as Dottle
looks at her the small face changes colour,
the warm blood mounts to her cheeks, dyeing
them rosy red and though she turns hastily
away, the sharp eyes of the other catches
the troubled expression of her lovely eyes
in the glass above the mantelpiece. The
mere mention of the beloved name agitates
her now-a-days, and Dottie sees it.
Vega need give no account of herself to
any one, but it does not enter her head to
prevaricate, or to leave the question un-
" Yes," she answers in a low tone, and
she shakes just a little ; "he was over here
After a minute or two Dottie continues :
** Then you know all ! No, no ! I am not
A WANDERING STAR. I 1 1
going to speak about it, you poor darling
I only wish to ask you one question — just
one — about myself. You don't blame me
for my share in the business ? You know I
was only a tool in their hands ? "
*' Blame you, Dottie ! " answers Vega,
firmly. ''No, indeed ! You were just a puppet
like all the rest of us ; they moved us about
and pulled the strings to suit themselves.
Yoii' were their mouthpiece, / was the victim
• — Brian and I," and her voice breaks a little,
*' that was the only difference. I am glad I
know the truth now, at any rate. I am quite
as unhappy as I was, but I don't feel so bitter
as I have done for a lono- time. It seemed
till yesterday as if every one was against me.
It is a kind of consolation, though a poor
one, to think that he suffered, too, or rather,
that he wasn't false and wicked as they tried
to make out. That hurt me more than any-
thing else ; but that's over, now. It won't
stand being talked about, though — we won't
speak of it again, Dottie. It is bad enough
to be always thinking about it — there they
are," she adds, as she catches the sound of
112 A WANDERING STAR.
wheels on the gravel. *' I suppose I ought
to go down and see what they have been
Vega leaves her guest, and runs down-
stairs, reachuig the entrance hall as the
brother and sister enter the house.
Miss Mossop's face falls as she sees her,
but Mr. Mossop seems almost unreasonably
elated, and his wife looks at him, filled with
surprise. He is never a very dignified or
imposing figure, but it must be confessed
that his appearance to-night is positively
grotesque, and Vega hardly knows whether
to laugh or to blush as they meet.
His red coat, boots, and breeches are
splashed with mud to such an extent as to
warrant the belief that he has ridden through
a horse-pond, and his face has not escaped
either, for a large spot of brown clay on one
cheek gives him a rakish expression, which
a scratch down the nose, on which the blood
has dried, does not diminish, while his hat,
which has been rained on and dried, and
rained on again, is rough as the coat of a
A WANDERING STAR. II3
The tolls and perils of the chase may
account for all these casualties, but surely
not for a leer in the eye, a scarlet counten-
ance, a thickness of speech, and a disposition
to fall foul of all the rugs and footstools in
the hall, which he looks on in the light of
so many man-traps, and kicks accordingly.
" Hullo ! Mrs. Mossop," is his greeting,
as he holds out both hands effusively to her.
" Here are the poor, weary fox-hunters back
at last ! Rather in a mess, too, ain't we ?
But all in the day's work, and hard work,
too, it is — 'unting, 'unting, 'unting, from
morning to night — but it's good for one,
that's the thing. It's good for one. What
does the song say,
" ' Better to 'unt the fields for 'ealth unbought,
Than fee the doctor for his nasteous drough.'
'' nauseous draft, or whatever the rubbish is.
What does it matter ? They both rhyme.
And what's your news, Mrs. M. ? You're
not looking very chirpy — about as lively as
a dying duck in a thunderstorm ! It doesn't
raise one's spirits much to come home to
VOL. III. I
114 A WANDERING STAR.
you. If you only did as Charley and I do,
now ! I should like to see you ' 'unt the
fields for 'ealth unbought.' You'd be a long
sight better company ! "
Vega can hardly believe her ears as she
listens to this tirade. Her husband seems
thoroughly transformed, and she does not
know what to make of the change. Where
has his dignity, his Importance, his pomposity
gone ? Where Is the fussy formality that
distinguishes him In general ? The string of
polite questions he usually asks, and the in-
formation that he Imparts with so much
unction on his return from hunting ? Above
all, where are some of his h's o^one, and
why have others perversely attached them-
selves to words which would be better with-
out such an unnecessary addition ?
Vega makes no answer, for the simple
reason that she can find nothing to say ; see-
ing which Mr. Mossop grows slightly
'' You're sulky now, I suppose ? Look
at her, Charley," says Mr. Mossop, gloomily
putting his hand on his sister's arm, as much
A WANDERING STAR. I 1 5
to Steady himself as to draw her attention to
his wife's shortcomings; ''she's angry be-
cause I told her she was about as lively to
come home to as a mute at a funeral. She
could mend if she liked, but she won't.
Women are queer cattle, and I don't know
but what one ain't better without them
"Do be quiet, Albert," says his sister,
interrupting his involved ramblings, but
encouraging him to keep a firm hold of her
strong arm. " You are talking utter nonsense,
and the sooner you stop and go upstairs to
dress the better. My dear Vega, if you
will run up first, we will follow at a more
discreet pace. Albert is very — tired," she
adds, telling her harmless white lie wi'tfh
a crestfallen air, knowing, as she well does,
that it would not deceive the merest child.
For no one could be blind to the fact that
Mr. Mossop is utterly, hopelessly, screwed,
and that that state is fatal to the thin coating
of veneer that has made him a kind of imita-
tion of a gentleman, and to which he has
attained with so much difficulty.
I I 6 A WANDERING STAR.
In vino Veritas, with a vengeance, as
far as he Is concerned. He has gone back
with a bound to the manners that were quite
o-ood enouQfh for him when he was "our
Mr. Albert" In his youthful days at the
It Is hard enough for him not to revert to
them, now and then. In his sober moments ;
It Is Impossible when he has not his wits
Poor Miss Charley Is terribly distressed,
and perhaps more so than If such
scenes were common and she were Inured
and hardened to them ; but his greatest
enemy could not accuse Mr. Mossop of
being a drunkard, or even of habitually
drinking more than was good for him. He
falls now and then at long Intervals, that is
all, and generally under circumstances that
his devoted sister tried to make herself
believe are extenuating. To-day it is the
bitter weather, the absence of sport, a hos-
pitable farmhouse, where orange brandy
was pressed on all comers, and a late and
uproarious luncheon at the ''George," at
A WANDERING STAR. I I J
Grimthorpe, when hunting was given up for
Not more than a dozen times in so
many years has I\Ir. Mossop succumbed so
thoroughly, and half that number of times
at least has Miss Charley been at hand to
take care of him, to put as good a face
on the misadventure as possible, and to
hush it up as much as she can. She
now, as ever, stands his friend. Uncon-
sciously to herself, she always looks on
him far more as her brother than as
Veofa is so younor — she has become one of
themselves so lately — in fact, it is only in
name, as Miss Mossop well knows, that she
is one of them at all — and the superiority of
the wife's claims over the sister's cannot in
this instance be called paramount. She
wishes now to spare the young girl, and take
the whole burden on her own shoulders', and
she wishes above all to hide the shortcomings
of the brother who she has known for so
many years to be thoroughly good-hearted
and good-natured, though the outside world
I I S A WANDERING STAR.
can only see that he Is vulgar, pretentious,
When they meet again at dinner Mr,
Mossop seems steadied down a little, and
though Vega looks with frightened eyes in
his direction everything goes smoothly
enough ; but she does not get the pleasure
out of Dottie's improved appearance and
evident self-satisfaction that she had looked
forward to, — Dottle, who, thanks to her,
looks quite smart and freshened up, and who
positively bridles as she looks down at the
broad, pale-blue folds of silk that relieve the
meagre plainness of her one and only even-
ing frock, and at the lovely flowers that were
so charmingly arranged for her by Vega her-
self. This peaceful state of matters does
not, however, last long. It seems to Miss
Mossop s watchful eye as if the champagne
went round even oftener than usual, and that
her brother's glass Is no sooner filled than It
Is emptied. As his spirits rise, so do hers
fall, and before dinner Is over, Vega herself,
pale and mute at the head of the table, Is
not more disturbed than she.
A WANDERING STAR. II9
'' I never saw such a lot in my life." says
Mr. Mossop, hilariously. His face is flushed,
and his hand shakes as he conveys what he
calls a " whitewash " to his lips.
They have fortunately got to the end of
dinner ; dessert is on the table ; the servants
are out of the room, with the exception of
the "chief butler," who is still circling round,
Dottie is half way through a mountain of ice
— pink and white — which she has heaped on
her plate, and the others are counting the
minutes that she is likely to take over it.
*' You, Vega, always were poor company! "
he Q^oes on. *'You never had a word to
throw to a dog, let alone your humble
servant. But you, Miss Dottie, I thought
you had some spunk about you. You had
to be mum enough at Conholt ; but I used to
see a devil in your eye when we were set
down to play halma together. That was
mamma's doing, wasn't it ? " And here his
mirth o-ets the better of him, and some of
the old brown sherry trickles from the glass,
held in his unsteady hand, on to the bulging
shirt-front that shines as if it were enamelled.
120 A WANDERING STAR.
''But Miss Vega there came along, and
upset all her plans. I daresay she's sorry
enough for It now," looking down the table
in Vega's direction ; " not satisfied, and all
that kind of thing. We're not good enough
for the likes of her, I suppose ! Well ! who
ever said that we were ? Lord Hautalne
isn't 7ny uncle, and / haven't a lot of swells
for my first cousins ; but I don't like being
looked down on for all that."
''Albert, what utter nonsense you are
talking ! " says his sister, authoritatively.
"You don't deserve any more of our society
if you go on like this. Vega, don't you
think we really might depart, and leave the
gentleman to his own devices ? You are
tired, Albert, dead tired. Why don't you
go to the smoking-room and have forty
winks before you come up ? "
Let that plan only be acted on, and Miss
Mossop knows full well that such a sleep
would last till bedtime, and would certainly
be undisturbed as far as they were concerned.
But she reckons without her host.
" You are a good woman, Charley," he
A AVAXDERIXG STAR. 12 1
says, patronizingly, ** but you always were
too fond of shoving in your oar when it
wasn't wanted. You like to run the whole
show yourself ; but you shan't get rid of me
so easily ! This young lady doesn't want to
get rid of me, at any rate, do you, Miss
Dottie ? You don't like a hen pie, or I'm
very much mistaken. Tell the truth, you'd
a deal rather talk to a man than to a woman,
wouldn't you, now ? "
Dottle, who is nothing if not sharp, has
grasped the situation long ago ; she only
makes one mistake, and that is, that she
jumps to the conclusion that similar scenes
occur every night.
She does not shrink away in disgust like
Vega : she is cast in a coarser, stronger
mould altogether, and there is a decided
want of refinement in her disposition ; but for
all that she feels a good deal afraid of Mr.
Mossop to-night, and she actually puts down
her spoon, leaving some rich creamy remains
of pineapple ice on her plate unfinished in
her anxiety to be ready the instant the
"route" is given. She mumbles some in-
122 A WANDERING STAR.
distinct answer to Mr. Mossop's absurd
question, which he takes in the affirmative.
*' Of course you do," he says, with a pro-
nounced wink. ''You're all alike, after all,
and I only wish we had a nice young man
for you here now, my dear. Who can we
get hold of for to-morrow night ? You
whisper in my ear the name of your fancy
man. Miss Dottle, and if he's in this part of
the world I will send over a note to him in
the morning. Oh ! I have it ! Brian Beres-
ford ! He's the man ! All the young ladles
are In love with Brian Beresford ! Let's
get him here for Miss Dottle. What do
you say to that happy thought, Mrs.
Mossop ? "
Mrs. Mossop Is spared all the trouble of
answering, for her sister-in-law pushes back
her chair with a great deal of determination,
and she finds herself following the others
out of the room before It is settled if Brian
Is to be asked to The Towers or not *' to
There is peace — a hollow peace — for a
time, while the three ladles sit, or work, or
A WANDERING STAR. 1 23
do nothing in the long gallery, but it lasts
too long, and like many another lull, it only
means mischief. Mr. Mossop arrives on the
scene in the end, and it is painfully evident
that the '' whitewash " before mentioned has
not been his last. The jovial stage seems
past, and his mood is now quarrelsome and
cantankerous. He flings himself down on
the huge gilded and satin-decked sofa at the
side of his trembling wife, who too evidently
shrinks away from him.
*' One would think I had the plague ! " he
says irritably. " What's the matter with you ?
I am not going to eat you. I can't under-
stand you, Mrs. M., and never could. You
sit there looking as glum as glum ! It would
make any one think you were ill-used, and
yet ' I load 3'ou with my benefits,' as the
hymn says. You're spoiled, that's what it
is. You get everything and you give
Vega turns scarlet as her husband utters
his coarse insulting words. It is almost as if
she had received a blow with the open hand
on the face, but she has learnt the lesson of
124 A WANDERING STAR.
self-command In an even harder school than
this, and she says nothing, though she winces
as she thinks of the listeners, and of Dottle
in particular, who with wide open eyes Is
taking In everything.
Mr. Mossop is not so far gone as to be
insensible to the effect of his words on his
'' HIghty-tlghty," says he with an unsuc-
cessful effort to turn It all into a joke ; " so
I've said the wrong thing again ; putting my
foot in it as usual ; but you can't take a joke,
Mrs. M. ; that's what It Is ! You're so stiff
and formal ; there's no bend about you at all ;
that's where you make the mistake ; there's
no bend about you," repeats Mr. Mossop,
delighted with this new word. *' It's ' Yes,
Mr. Mossop,' and 'No, Mr. Mossop,' when
you forget, and when you don't It's ' Yes,
Albert,' and ' No, Albert,' but there's no
heart in it. The words are just dragged out
of you, and I should like to know what harm
poor Albert has ever done you that he should
be always kept at a distance ? " Mr. Mossop
resumes his aggrieved tone. " I can't see
A WANDERING STAR. I 25
what you've got to complain of for my part.
I can't see It ; can't s'h'ee It. I say, you
there," he calls out to one of the footmen,
who Is skirmishing about after empty coffee
cups, "bring me a brandy and soda as quick as
you like : and don't drown the B with the
soda." His eyes Involuntarily turn to his sister,
who Is sitting bolt upright, watchful, and with
all her wits about her. '' Oh, yes, Miss
Charley ; you may frown, and come the
governess over me as much as you like, but
I mean to be master in my own house all the
same. It's all very well to say that this is
the drawing-room ; it may be twenty drawing-
rooms for all I care. If I am thirsty, I am
not aware that there is any law to prevent
my having something to drink here. Any-
how, I want none of your interference ! Vega,
my dear, your good health," as he seizes the
tumbler in his hand. ''You shouldn't bear
malice. Where no offence Is meant none
need be taken. Take a taste of it ; it'll put
some colour into your white cheeks." He
comes nearer her, and shows a disposition to
put his arm round her slim waist ; but this is
126 A WANDERING STAR.
more than she can stand, and even Mr.
Mossop cannot help seeing her aversion and
disgust as she shrinks from his touch. It Is
written In her pale face, her troubled eyes,
her frightened air, and It not unnaturally ex-
asperates him. " D you ! " he shouts,
losing the little command over himself he
still possesses; "do you think I am going
to put up with any more of your airs and
graces ? You do as I tell you, madam ! " He
holds the glass right In front of her so that
she cannot move, and tries to hold It steadily,
but his hand shakes, or perhaps the poor child
In her anxiety to get away from him touches
his arm ; anyhow, the tumbler slips from his
fingers, and crashes down on the floor,
drenching her white dress with the strong, —
the very strong — contents. Vega starts to her
feet ; surely she need stand no more now ;
surely he has Insulted her enough ; the tum-
bler lies in fragments on the parquet floor —
the whole place seems reeking of brandy,
and she dashes from the room leaving her
husband to lament with a maudlin laugh the
loss of so much good liquor !
A WANDERING STAR. 12/
"It is time for us to go now," says Miss
Mossop, in a very determined tone to Dottie ;
but after she has conveyed the girl to the
pretty pink and blue nest that Vega had
tried to make so pretty for her the good
sister returns once more to the gallery, and
it is on her faithful arm that Mr. Mossop
leans as he lurches along its slippery floor,
and zig-zags up corridors that finally bring
him to his own room.
128 A WANDERING STAR.
" Oh ! had I wist, afore I kiss'd,
That love had been sae ill to win,
I had locked my heart in a kist o' gowd
And prinned it wi' a siller prin."
When Vega stands at the hall-door the
next afternoon and sees Brian Beresford
coming towards her, galloping his horse
across the park, she rejoices greatly, and she
does not think that it may be a real mis-
fortune that he should have chosen this very
day for his visit. In the first place, she and
Dottie are alone ; there is no watchful, wise,
sensible Miss Charley to note with clear-
sighted eyes the turn that things are taking,
or to break in with loud, hearty, commonplace
voice on whispers that seem to say so much
less, but are so much more dangerous than
her straightforward, cheery remarks. But
A WANDERING STAR. I 29
IMiss Charley and Mr. Mossop are once more
out himtlnor. She had not Intended dolnir
so, but the poor man was so crest-fallen — so
utterly humble — and, above all, so dependent
on her for moral support, that she had not
the heart to desert him, so to-day again she
pursues the fox, and he skirts.
He is abject ; he is almost broken-down ;
he knows that he has made an utter fool of
himself; he w^ould repent in sackcloth and
ashes if he could.
He — usually so full of conceit and swagger
— seems to have lost his self-respect entirely ;
he cannot look his wife or " Miss Dottie "
in the face. He does not even care to
catch the butler's eye ; he is ill at ease,
awkward, and nervous ; he has but his
sister to cling to, and he does it with all his
She, w^ho believes, or determines to believe,
in extenuating circumstances, does her best
to console him, and fights his battles man-
fully in his absence.
There is no use in trying to believe that
Dottie did not take in last night's scene, and
VOL. III. K
130 A WANDERING STAR.
Miss Mossop does not even attempt to
hoodwink her, but tells her the plain truth,
which, it must be owned, Dottle feels at
liberty to doubt.
''If you think it is my brother's habit to
oehave as he did last night," says Miss
Charley to the girl, before the horses come
round to the door, " I can only say that you
are very much mistaken, and for Vega's
sake, I hope, my dear Miss Langton, that
you will keep all that occurred last night to
yourself No one has ever said, or ever could
say, that Albert was a drunkard. Few men
are more sober than he as a rule. I give
you my word that yesterday was an excep-
Dottie, somewhat naturally, takes this
statement with a grain of salt. She knows
Miss Mossop's devotion to her brother, and
she, who has seldom seen people stick at a
lie to forward some unworthy end, firmly
believes that Miss Mossop is equally un-
scrupulous when the object chances to be a
good one. The school in which the girl has
been brought up is such a detestable one
A WANDERING STAR. 131
that it is no wonder that her ideas of right
and wrong are somewhat confused.
It is no wonder either that, when she finds
herself alone for some minutes with Brian,
she forgets poor Miss Charley's request and
her own glib and easy-spoken promises, and
gives him a highly-coloured version of the
It is indeed coloured out of all likeness to
the reality, for whereas Mr. Mossop, at the
worst, was only coarse and vulgar, she gives
Beresford the impression that the woman —
the hem of whose garment he thinks Mr.
Mossop is unworthy to kiss — has been
deeply insulted by him. The incident of
the broken tumbler lends itself well to
description also, and does not lose in the
Dottie does not exactly mean to deceive
or mislead, and she has certainly no dislike
to Mr. INIossop, but she cannot resist loading
her canvas with the most violent colours, and
making a regular sensation picture of it.
She likes the importance of telling her tale to
Brian as much as she likes the idea of
132 A WANDERING STAR.
having a secret In common with him. He,
on his side, Is filled with wrath — a righteous
anger, no doubt, though perhaps It may result
in adding fuel to the flame of a love that is
by no means righteous. It Is hard that the
story should be told to him now. He had
meant to walk so straight ; he had promised
himself to be the best friend Vega ever had ;
he had sworn, as far as in him lay, never by
word, or deed, to try to bring back the past.
He certainly was going to attempt the
impossible — but to attempt it In all good
faith. He had been' madly in love with her,
and now he meant to be her friend alone ;
he was going to attempt a descent on which
every foot Is bound to slip, and where the most
steady must lose his head. Such had been
the task he had set before himself, and it would
have been hard enough to carry out, at any
time, Heaven knows ; but now, when to love
is added pity — sorrow for the child who has
fallen into such rough, rude hands — over-
powering, overmastering compassion for the
woman who has been insulted — the burden
is more than he can bear.
A WANDERING STAR. 1 33
He dees not speak to Vega about the
events of last night, and no v;ord of his
conveys that he has any knowledge of what
took place, but she knows that he has been
told as certainly as if he said so — knows it
by his steady avoidance of her husband's
name, as well as by the sympathy she
reads in his eyes, and feels in the warm
grasp of his hand.
As for Yeea, she is as one transformed in
his presence, she feels as if she had no more
trouble, for she forgets them all ; when she
walks beside him it is as if her feet were
treading on air ; when he speaks to her, her
heart bounds — when his ardent eyes meet
hers, she has no thought of anything else.
She is no longer dull, or sad, or weary, nor
does she brood over the tragic troubles of
her past, or the more petty griefs of the
present time. Everything is swallowed up
in the sweet madness that has seized her.
She has entered the enchanted valley,
down which most of us walk once in our
lives, and the glamour of fairyland is over
134 A WANDERING STAR.
Pity that the end of the valley is so
quickly reached, and that the magic light
fades so soon.
There is no going back ; we may not re-
trace our steps ; there are no more enchanted
valleys in the desert through which we must
toil wearily till the end comes, and the rain-
bow light — whose hues are called youth, and
love, and joy — fades away as suddenly as it
came ; but just at the beginning the flowers
of the valley are so sweet, the air so soft, and
the light so heavenly, that no wonder those
who first set foot in it are dazzled, and
believe that Paradise has indeed come.
Sorrow has been Vega's lot so far; but she
seems now to have left it far behind her, and
young as she is, she does not take in or
understand that her duty is rather to cling to
it, and to accept sadness, and weariness, and
all that makes life dreary and burdensome,
as her appointed portion. She does not
realize that she has no right to be happy —
no right to turn to Brian — no right to any-
thing but the love, the close companionship,
the unending communion of a Mr. Mossop.
A WANDERING STAR. I 35
She has always been the victim of circum-
stances, and everything seems now to com-
bine to send her on the wrong road. No
doubt it would have been far better
had she gone on believing that Brian
had been false to her ; it was a pity that
she should know, when too late, that never
— never for a moment — had his love for
her wavered, and that it was the machina-
tions of her enemies alone that had parted
them. It was unfortunate also that any
feeble liking, or gratitude, or respect, that
she had done her best to cultivate for Mr.
Mossop, should have received such a rude
shock at this very time. She seems now to
feel as if she had a sort of right to shrink
from him. How can she honour, far less love,
the stupid, half-intoxicated creature who,
with flushed face, shaking hands, and
loosened tongue, had talked to her so
brutally, and insulted her so deeply, only last
To be sure, he was not accountable for
his words, and he meant nothing when his
tumbler fell from his feeble grasp on her lap,
136 A WANDERING STAR.
deluging her with the potent stream. She Is
even ready to forgive him, and will try to
forget the whole scene as far as possible ;
but how can she help drawing a contrast
between the man whom she calls lord and
master and Brian — handsome, chlvaVous
Brian — who would die to protect her from
an Insult that the other had not scrupled to
offer her ? She Is but a weak girl, and
though prudence, duty, even virtue itself,
forbids It, she cannot but turn to her old
love from her lawful husband.
Too much seems to be expected by the
world from its victims, and Its punishments
fall somewhat indiscriminately. In the
pitiful little tragedy, of which poor, friend-
less Vega is the principal figure, the finger
of scorn will never be pointed at the real
sinners. Lady Julia and her sister will lead
charmed lives, as far as Immunity from
blame goes ; but let the feet of their victim
but once stray, though ever so slightly,
from the narrow path in which she has been
forced to walk, and she will be driven back
ruthlessly, or, more probable still, be
A WANDERING STAR. I 37
hounded to utter destruction. Will one
voice in a hundred be raised to excuse or
pity ? Will one plea for mercy be urged ?
Will one of those who have laid too heavy
a burden on such slender shoulders own
to even an error in judgment ? Will
they not rather pass by on the other
side, shuddering — or affecting to shudder
— over faults, errors, weaknesses, which
they do their best to magnify into
But Vega does not look forward to the
dark future, which, to her, as to us all, will
come but too quickly. The joyful days of
youth are still hers, and her eyes are still
gladdened by the light.
All she knows is, that she has suddenly
grown strangely, over-poweringly happy ;
that the clouds that have darkened her
whole life have cleared away as if by ma^ic ;
and that sadness and sorrow seem far away
It may be but a fool's paradise in which
she is living, but no one need grudge it her :
the halcyon days will come to an end all too
138 A WANDERING STAR.
soon ; and even now a keen eye might see
the beginning of the end.
But Vega's step is Hght ; her voice has a
ring of joy in It that sometimes surprises
even herself. She and Dottle are merry.
They laugh and talk as Vega, at any rate,
has not done since the early days of her
childhood — before her eyes were opened to
the troubles of her life. Her life now
seems a dream of alternate hope and happi-
ness ; for it is only those blessed moments
when she and Brian are tosfether that she
feels she really lives — the rest of her time is
spent in looking forward.
Everything seems to have righted itself
all at once, as far as she is concerned — at
any rate, everything seems easier for her
now. She sees but little of her hus-
band ; for he, urged by Miss Charley, and
more resigned to the horrors of hunting,
now that the end of the season Is within a
measurable distance, hardly misses a day.
She and Dottle are consequently left almost
entirely alone. But, Heaven be praised !
there Is another in the same condition !
A WANDERING STAE. • ^39
" j\Iy host is a very good fellow, but,
unfortunately, there is no horse in his stable
for me to ride," says Brian to the two girls,
as if to explain or excuse his constant
appearance at The Towers. "He rides
sixteen stone, and has only a couple of
weight-carriers, which he means to keep
religiously for himself Anyhow, I w^ouldn't
deprive him of one of those slow and sure
conveyances for the world ; the consequence
is, I am left to my own devices all day long
every hunting-day. I have carte blanche to
slay rabbits ; but that palls upon one in the
end, and if you are not tired of me yet, I
like a great deal better coming over here in
the afternoon to see what you are all
It does not seem to strike any of them
that there is no particular reason why such a
popular and much-sought-after man should
prolong his visit at a dull house, where there
is practically nothing for him to do. A life
of solitude and rabbit-shooting is not exactly
in Brian's line ; and the owner of the
weight-carriers is not a very lively com
140 A WANDERING STAR.
panion. It is no doubt more to the purpose
that he is not more than two miles from The
Towers, and that he seems to know by
instinct the direction of Mrs. Mossop's after-
noon walks. He is not very eager to go to
The Towers itself, nor is there any cut-and-
dried plan of meeting at any time ; but the
two girls, as they saunter through the
woods, or go farther afield, are pretty certain
that he will join them. It all seems so
natural : the greatest stickler for propriety
could surely find nothing to object to in
those walks, at which Dottie always, or
almost always, makes a third.
But if they are quite so harmless, why are
Brian and Vega both so absurdly happy as
they pace along side by side ? Is it the
chill breeze of February alone that brings
the lovely colour to her cheek ? Is the
prospect around them so very enlivening,
and are leafless trees, bare plantations, grey
pastures, that look as if they would never
be green again, and damp and sodden paths,
calculated in themselves to raise the spirits ?
It surely must be so ; for day by day the
A WANDERING STAR. 141
walks seem to lengthen as the days them-
selves grow longer. Vega's light feet never
seem to tire ; and when she parts from
Brian in the twilight it is to go home to
dream of the moment when they will meet
again, and once more tread those enchanted
fields that, to the ordinary eye, look so bleak
The proverb that lookers-on see most of a
game is true, however, in this instance, as
in so many others ; and the blindness — or
wilful blindness — of those who play is not
shared by those who stand around and
watch every move and keep a vigilant score.
Beresford's eyes are blinded by passion ;
the bright sunshine of happiness dazzles
Vega ; while Dottie, who has watched
intrigue, deception, and double-dealing from
her cradle, has grown short-sighted, and her
vision is but dim and uncertain. But there
is a court of justice near at hand that is as
all seeing as Justice should be, and it is a
court from which there is no appeal ; for
those who are on their trial before it are
ignorant that they have been arraigned at
14^ A WANDERING STAR.
any bar, and they can neither defend them-
selves, nor does any one plead for them.
This veJini gericJit is composed of those who
eat our bread, who live under our roof, who
are always with us, if not of us, and who try
us in the balance, and, as a rule, find us
wantlnof ! The servants' hall and the house-
keeper's room at The Towers have been
informed of those walks of their young
mistress. They know their length, their
direction. They have assisted In some
mysterious way at those moments when
Brian and Vega have parted in the twi-
light ; they have noticed the brightness that
has come into her lovely face of late ; the
happy tones of her voice have struck them —
and they have drawn their own conclusions.
There Is a directness about those con-
clusions that is positively startling ! The
trumpet of the downstairs regions gives
forth no 'uncertain blast, for the boundary
line that separates vice from virtue is with
them hard and fast, and one which may not
be tampered with for a moment. Mercy
means weakness, and no one can afford to
A WANDERING STAR. 1 43
err on the side of leniency. There are also
other reasons which, from their point of
view, dispose them to be hard on Vega. It
is not that they dIsHke her — it would be
hard Indeed to dislike the charming, lovely
girl — but, in their own words, " she came to
master without a penny to bless herself with,
and she ouo^ht to be crrateful indeed for the
good home he has given her. She was a
mere nobody, for her father was one of that
low lot of English who live by their wits in
foreign parts, and though they do say as
how her mother had something to do with
Lord Hautalne, much good has she ever got
from him or from that old skin-flint his wife
either ! No, no ! if old Mossop hadn't taken
pity on her, where would she be now ? for
Mrs. Titmass, at Conholt, tells me that her
ladyship there wouldn't have kept her much
longer — why, she'd have been earning her
wages like us by this time as a governess,
more like than not ; and as for the young
spark who dangles after her now, if he had
been so fond of her as he makes believe,
why didn't he come forward before ? "
144 A WANDERING STAR.
Such Is the verdict, or something very like
it, that is passed by those who make It their
business to find out everything. With one
consent they determine to keep their eyes
open and to form themselves into a band of
unpaid detectives, who are expected to bring
every tittle of evidence they can scrape
together to be sifted in full conclave.
But Is the word passed round by them to
other self-constituted courts, or do the birds
of air carry the secret ? If not, how can the
rapidity with which any story of this kind
Is circulated be accounted for ?
It seems but yesterday since Brian Beres-
ford went to stay at The Grange, and now
every one is laughing at the length of his
visit there. The possibility of his finding
quiet, combined with rabbit-shooting, at all
to his taste. Is considered an excellent joke
by every one, and "pretty Mrs. Mossop " Is
mentioned with a laugh as the real ** word of
the enigma." All the men agree that he
shows his taste ; the older ones declare that
they would have done the same a few years
ago, and Insinuate that no woman ever
A WANDERING STAR. 1 45
resisted them when they were in their prime.
The young men laugh, look mysterious, and
imply that they could have been as success-
ful as Brian himself " 'an they would." As
for the leading ladies of Blankshire, they
have, thanks to Lady Hermione, the story,
or rather her version of it, at their fingers*
ends. The w^ord seems to have been passed
from Conholt that Mrs. Mossop's flirtation
with Beresford is perfectly disgraceful, and
it has spread like wildfire.
A good many of them remember that
they had always said there was something
queer about Mrs. Mossop, and that her
behaviour at the hunt ball had thoroughly
opened their eyes to the sort of person she
"What can you expect?" asks Lady
Hautaine, solemnly, of her lord, after she
has repeated and amplified the news she had
received in strict confidence from Lady Her-
mione. The latter lady had driven over to
Hautaine Castle ostensibly to receive orders
on Primrose League business from its high
priestess, in the person of Lady Hautaine,
VOL. III. L
146 A WANDERING STAR.
but in reality to pour Into her ears an
imaginary story, which she called ^* the
scandal at The Towers."
Lady Hermlone has not forgotten her
walk with Brian up the glen, or the hard
words he said to her then ; and he must be
punished as well as Vega.
As for Lady Hautaine, she has her own
ends to gain by enlarging on their mis-
demeanours to her husband, as well as to all
those to whom she condescends to speak
In the first place, if there is a soft corner
in the machine that does duty for her heart,
it is reserved for her lord and master, and
she knows that he has always borne her a
kind of grudge for her determined resolution
never to have anything to do with the girl
he would always speak of as '' Mary's
He has never been quite able to forget-
though it is such an old story now that it
hardly seems a reality at all — that there
had been days when he and his merry little
sister had romped and played as children in
A WANDERING STAR. 1 47
the Hautalne nurseries, had ridden ponies
together, together had dug their small gar-
dens, and had wandered hand In hand under
the great trees of the home park. Hautalne
Castle was then as much her home as his,
hard as It seems to believe that now, or to
think that the broken-hearted woman, who
has so long slept In a neglected grave In the
Dieppe cemetery, had started In the race of
life with as fair a chance as himself. He does
not often think of such things ; but when he
does he never falls to blame — not himself —
but his strong-minded wife, for her steady
refusal to have anything to do with Vega,
who she always mentions In a tone of con-
tempt as that " FItzpatrIck girl." Nothing,
however. In Lord Hautalne's eyes, has ever
been worth a fight with his wife, for above
all things he loves, and has always loved, a
quiet life, and he has not attempted for
years to cross swords with her.
She Is clever and he Is just a little foolish,
and she h always right and she always lets
him know It. No wonder that, as she tells
him now of Vesta's enormities, she cannot
148 A WANDERING STAR.
resist, adding, " I told you so ! I hear, on
excellent authority," she goes on, '' that her
behaviour is a positive scandal, and that
vulgar man, her husband, is, they say, the
only person who doesn't see it. This un-
principled Mr. Brian Beresford seems to have
taken up his quarters altogether in that part
of the country, and they are said to have
secret meetings every day. The whole
place is ringing with the story, and the
general idea is that she will elope with him
in the end. I cannot say I feel surprised.
She has bad blood in her veins. What can
you expect from a daughter of Ralph Fitz-
patrick ? "
Lady Hautalne's dictum is a good speci-
men of the line adopted by most of the
Mrs. Grundy s of Blankshire, who would
have been surprised indeed had they realized
that it Is Lady Hermione, of all people,
who has spurred them on, and if some of
the younger and gentler among them ven-
tured to express some pity for the girl, and
to wonder if things really are as bad as they
are made out, they are silenced by the
A WANDERING STAR. 1 49
question as to whether they approve of
a young married woman having clandes
tine meetings with a man who evidently
her husband will not allow Inside his
Dottle's visit to The Towers has been
lengthened out to a fortnight, and It Is only
the day before the one named for her return
to Conholt that a note Is sent over In hot
haste from that place. It Is brought to the
girl In the early morning before she Is out of
bed, and as she reads her mother's words, and
looks round at the many tokens of Vega's
kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity that
her eye rests on, she tears up the note
viciously. " It's a shame — a beastly shame —
that's what It Is ! " she says In her usual strong
language, and certainly no one knows that
better than herself, for she has enough of
her mother In her to be able to read
between the lines all the hatred, spite,
and malice combined with the determi-
nation to get as much out of her enemy
as possible, that Lady Hermlone has put
150 A WANDERING STAR.
" Dear Dottie,"
So the letter runs : " I am greatly distressed that
I have allowed you to remain so long at The Towers.
It is most unfortunate that you should have made such a
stay under the roof of a woman so much talked about as
your hostess is, and has been for some time past. I
cannot exactly blame myself, for I could not have be-
lieved it possible that she would have been so bold, or
that even she would have flirted as audaciously as she
appears to have done. (Oh, Lady Hermione !) I feel
certain that, badly as Beresford seems to have behaved
in this business, she has run after him in the most bare-
faced fashion. All I can now do is, to get you home as
quickly as possible, for neither your aunt nor myself
will hear of your being an hour longer at The Towers than
is absolutely necessary. Make Vega send you to Grira-
thorpe to catch the morning train, if she can't send you
over the whole way.
'•' Yours ever,
" H. Langton."
" But what Is the meaning of your sudden
departure, Dottie ? " Inquires her hostess, as
the other. In an awkward and shame-faced
manner, announces her return that very morn-
ing to Conholt. *' Have you tired of us all of
a sudden, or are you filled with a burning
desire to get back to that dreadful old school-
room ? Perhaps you think you ought not to
have left Pussie in the lurch so long ; but I
A WANDERING STAR. I5I
thought we had settled to make It up to
Pussie in some other way. Oh ! dont go !
Dottle, I shall miss you so very much."
" Will you Indeed, Vega ? " cries the other
girl, dashing up to her, and throwing he'
sturdy arms round Vega's slim, slender body.
" I do believe you are the only person In the
world who would or could say as much ; and
yet I used to be so nasty to you, and to be so
jealous and envious of you. I was such a beast
to you, and yet you have utterly forgiven me,
and are nicer to me than any one ever was,
or ever will be again — I would give my eyes
to stay on here, but what could I say to the
Mums ? She coimnands me to go back to
Conholt at once, and I don't dare to disobey
her. She and Bijou would nearly kill me If
I didn't do as they told me."
''And what Is their motive for wishing
your society all of a sudden } " asks Vega,
laughing. ** In my day at Conholt the less
they saw of us the better pleased they were.
Do you remember the black looks we
always got when we went into the drawing-
room uninvited, and how we used to tremble
152 A WANDERING STAR.
behind the door when we were expected,
and when we had to march in like convicts,
with our eyes on the ground, treading on one
another's heels in our fright ? What do they
want to do with you, and why can't you stay
till to-morrow, at any rate ? "
Dottie Langton seems to take stock of
her companion — she looks into her sweet,
almost childish face ; she meets the gentle
glance of her lovely blue eyes ; and then she
thinks of the dreadful words in Lady Her-
mlone's letter, and of the expressions in it
that seem so utterly impossible that any one
could use about Vega. Vega bold ! Vega
audacious ! such an accusation is absurd ; but
it makes her blood boil when she thinks of
the injustice of it all. Her face grows
scarlet, her eyes lighten, her sudden likeness
to Lady Julia becomes quite startling, and
Vega looks at her in wonder and surprise.
''Dottie," she says at last, "what is the
secret ? There is some reason for this
sudden recall. Don't you think I ought to
know it ? "
" Yes ! you should, you should, Vega ! "
A WANDERING STAR. 1 53
sobs the Other, hot tears coursing down her
red cheeks. " They will be mad with me for
telling you, but I don't care. They say,
Vega " — she looks Into Vega's innocent face,
and she stops — she can't get on — she has
plenty of assurance in general, but she can't
find the heart to insult one whose accusers
can only judge others by themselves. She
falls to weeping, and her tears are as much
tears of rage as of compassion. " Oh !
Vega," she says at last, and her words,
choked by sobs, might sound as if they had
nothing to do with the subject on hand, did
Veo^a not read betw^een the lines as the other
speaks, " I r/ius^ go back to Conholt ; there
is no help for it, and I beg of you not to
have anything to do with Brian Beresford
when I am gone."
There is a pause for a minute or two, and
then Vega, with her face quite colourless even
to the lips, makes answer, — " I understand it
all, Dottle : I think I have only two friends
in the whole world — you and Brian — and
they want to take you both away from me.
They won't let you stay with me any longer —
154 A WANDERING STAR.
and Brian " and her voice breaks as
she speaks the beloved name — '' I suppose I
shall lose him, too ! "
** Never! Vega," says Dottie, fervently,
catching one of the girl's trembling hands in
her own. '' Strong as they are, they will never
be able to manacre that. We — he and I —
are your friends for ever. All the same, you
mustn't give people a chance of talking
about you. Do you remember all the dreadful
things the Mums and Bijou used to say
about people ? They mustn't be allowed to
talk about you like that — you mustn't give
them anything to take hold of You must
be wise, darling."
'^ Am I to show my wisdom by giving up
the only pleasure I have now-a-days ? " asks
Vega, with a forced smile. "It would be
rather hard, wouldn't it, Dottie ? "
" Shall I tell you what Brian himself
made me promise him quite a short time
ago ?" asks Dottie. "He asked me to swear
that if ever I saw you in need of a helping
hand that I would hold out mine to you.
He told me that I was clever and sharp.
A WANDERING STAR. 1 55
and might some day have It in my power
to save you from some danger or other.
He said you were more friendless than any-
one he knew, and that I must stand by
you whatever happened. I made him a
solemn promise that I would do so, and
I believe I am keeping my word now.
It Is very strange that the danger should
be caused by him, but I can't help that.
What I have got to do is to warn 3^ou
now. Doiit meet Brian again — It is dan-
gerous ! "
''So I must give up that too!" answers
Vega, in a dreary voice. " All our merry
walks over ; all the good time we have had,
we three, together — It all ends to-day.
There was not so much harm In It, after
all, I think, Dottle, or perhaps there was,
only I didn't know it. We were to have
met Brian this afternoon again, and now you
will be gone, and I shall meet him alone.
No, no ! Dottle, don't be alarmed ! I imtst
see him once again, and he will under-
stand when I tell him it must be for the last
156 A WANDERING STAR.
But does Brian understand it as clearly
as all that ? Does he accept her decision
— so undecidedly spoken — without a mur-
mur ? When he sees her pitiful face and
her sweet eyes drowned In tears, and
when he takes her trembling hand in his,
does he bow to the wisdom of her words ?
Does he acknowledge the justice of the
laws that govern society? — laws "framed
to make women false," — or will he tell
her that, when two people love as they
do, they may well be a law unto them-
To be young, to be madly In love, and
at the same time to be abnormally wise, is
a rare combination Indeed : to Brian, at least,
it is impossible. He knows nothing, feels
nothing, thinks of nothing but of the girl at
his side, who tells him she may be standing
there for the last time : —
*' To his eye
There was but one beloved face on earth,
And that was shining on him."
Their parting that evening in the dusk
A WANDERING STAR. 1 57
does not look like an act of supreme re-
nunciation, nor is there much wisdom in the
entreaties that have won in the end a pro-
mise that there shall be one more meeting
— one more, and the last.
1^8 A WANDERING STAR.
" It is a curious coincidence," says Mr.
Mossop, irritably, " that no sooner do I
propose any plan, make any arrangement for
your comfort or amusement, or do my very
best to give you pleasure, than you in-
variably oppose me. In your eyes, Vega, I
can do nothing right. Try as I like, I never
can make out what you want to be at — you
don't know yourself, I suppose. I am sure
you look dull and dreary enough when
Charley and I come back from hunting. You
never have a word to throw to a dog, let
alone your poor husband. And now that I
have ordered posters for the waggonette,
and have settled that we should all drive
over together to the hunt breakfast at Hau-
talne Castle, it's ' Oh no, Albert, please don't
insist on my going, Albert ! ' Most girls of
- A WANDERING STAR. 1 59
your age would be only too glad of the
outing, let alone the fact that you will be,
in a measure, at home there. Lord and
Lady Hautaine being your uncle and aunt,
will, of course, add to your interest," adds
Mr. Mossop, pompously, rolling out the
great names in a tone of positive enjoy-
The three inmates of The Towers are
making an early breakfast before starting on
the long drive to Hautaine, as planned by
Mr. Mossop. He is always more or less
irritable and snappy on a hunting morning,
and to-day either his nerves are more shaky
than usual, or else Vega's unexpected oppo-
sition to his wishes has thoroughly put him
out, for he looks ill-tempered and sulky as
he sits in his red coat at the bottom of the
table, trying to eat, and succeeding but
badly, even with the assistance of strongly
''laced" coffee. Miss Charley needs 'no
stimulant to enable her to do full justice to
an excellent breakfast, and looks buxom,
fresh-coloured, and jovial even at this hour
of the morning. She fills her riding-habit
l6o A WANDERING STAR.
in a very satisfactory manner, and looks an
excellent specimen . of a healthy, hearty
Englishwoman. She always makes Vega
look slimmer and more fragile than ever
when she Is beside her, and this morning
she notices that her young sister-ln-law
Is looking particularly pale and out of
'' Couldn't you let the child stay at home,
if she likes it best ? " she asks her brother.
'' Every one wouldn't care for a long drive on
such a bitter March morning — wz^/i Lady
Hautaine at the end of it." And Miss
Charley smiles a broad smile, for it strikes
her as extremely comical that her brother
should have reserved Lady Hautaine for the
bouquet de la fete as far as Vega Is con-
'' I don't see what you object to In Lady
Hautaine," says Mr. Mossop, testily. '' Even
if you forget the fact that she is a near
relation of my wife's, I look on her as a lady
entitled to the highest respect."
'' Oh, yes, I will respect her as much as
you like, Albert," returns Miss Mossop,
A WANDERING STAR. l6l
laughing, as she demoHshes another egg and
more bacon. '' She Is certainly the most
respectable woman of my acquaintance, if
the frosty smile and two fingers that she
favours me with when we meet allows me
to consider her an acquaintance at all. I
only meant that she has an acquired taste,
that was all — like olives at dessert, or per-
haps caviare, or indeed anything that one
can't be expected to like all at once."
'' I must request you not to set my wife
against her aunt," answers Mr. Mossop,
loftily. " And, all things considered, Vega,
I insist on your coming over to Hautalne
Mr. Mossop Is not a very pleasant man to
oppose once he has set his heart on any-
thing, for It Is his way to become extremely
plalnspoken as well as a trifie coarse and
vulgar when irritated, and Vega has no par-
ticular desire to hear him discuss the reasons
which make her shrink from the bare idea of
forcing herself on relations who have always
steadily Ignored her. She has already heard
Lady Hautalne's opinion about herself in
VOL. III. M
1 62 A WANDERING STAR.
pretty plain language : she knows the low
estimation in which she holds the unfortu-
nate Mr. Mossop, and she feels she can
hardly face the ordeal of an encounter with
the grim dame. But opposition has only the
effect of making Mr. Mossop the more obsti-
nate, and pride stops his wife from putting
the situation clearly before him. Needless
to say, all is done as he wishes. The long
cold drive is endured : Hautaine Castle is
reached : Mr. and Miss Mossop prepare to
mount their horses, and Vega finds herself
alone in the waggonette among the crowd of
vehicles of every size and description that
fill the great court of the Castle. Everybody
seems in a bustle, and full of business and
excitement: red-coated men hurry about,
looking for their horses, or their grooms, and
giving hasty greetings to their numerous
A group of them stand on the broad steps
in front of the great doors ; there is a constant
stream of sportsmen and sportswomen who
go in and out of the Castle, and Mr. Mossop
forms one of them, for he not only wants
A WANDERING STAR. 1 63
cherry brandy, and a good deal of It, on this
cold morning, but he is also eager to set his
foot inside the portals that have never before
been thrown open to him. But he is dis-
appointed that neither his wife nor his sister
will accompany him ; Miss Charley, indeed,
laughs at the bare idea, and he well knows
that when she Is so determined nothing will
" No, thank you, Albert," she says, with
good-humoured decision ; '' I don't share your
veneration for Lady Hautaine, and I never
was fond of beinof either snubbed or
patronized, so I mean to give her ladyship a
wide berth ; and pray don't insist on Vega
going In either if she dislikes it ; it would be
positively painful to her, I am quite sure. Let
her do as she likes, Albert ; " this very firmly,
as '' Albert " shows a disposition almost to use
bodily force to drag his wife from the carriage
and to Insist on her entering the Castle, there
formally to claim relationship with Lord and
He Is, however, always amenable to reason
when wisdom, in the shape of his sister,
164. A WANDERING STAR.
Speaks, being both fond of, and afraid of her ;
so he desists, but with a very bad grace.
He looks viciously at Vega. '' It's always
the same story. You never do anything I
want you. I wonder what's the good of
you ? " and stumps sulkily away with the
air of one w^ho is the victim of ingratitude
Lady Hautaine is at this moment standing
at an open window, shivering as she surveys
through her heavy, gold-mounted eye-glasses
the scene before her.
" I do believe," she says at last to a group
of toadies, male and female, who surround
her, " that that fast, horrid Mrs. Mossop has
had the audacity to come over here ! There
she actually is — sitting all alone in that wag-
gonette ! I suppose people are rather chary
of speaking to her. I wonder she didn't
brine that dreadful Mr. Beresford over with
her — she would have been quite capable
of it ! "
A chorus of assent and condemnation
comes from those whose business it is to
agree with everything Lady Hautaine says,
A WANDERING STAR. IO5
and as the}^ assent and condemn, Lady Julia
Darner appears on the scene, driving the
smartest pair of cobs in Blankshire. She is
a wonderful whip, belonging as she does to
that modern class of women who seem to
excel in everything : it is a class that naturally
is somewhat limited, but not the less recog-
nized on that account.
The best coachman in England could not
manage those spirited horses with greater
skill in such a crowd of vehicles and horses,
where there does not look as if there was a
spare inch of ground ; but her ladyship
sweeps up to the entrance as if her task was
a perfectly eas}' one. Many an admiring eye
follows the brilliant-looking woman, whose
splendid, though somewhat mature, beauty,
stands the light of day so well. She fears
nothing, not even the sunshine, and her bold,
handsome face looks Its best under the plain
black riding hat, whose severity would be so
fatal to so many of her contemporaries.
As she dashes up, with Lady Hermione,
haggard but handsome, sitting by her side,
she catches sight of Vega, alone and
1 66 A WANDERING STAR.
apparantly deserted In The Towers wag-
'' The Lord hath deHvered thee into my
hand," Is In substance, U not In words, the
feehng that passes through her cruel mind,
while Lady Hermlone realizes that the hour
of revenge has come at last.
As for Lady Julia, one might as well ex-
pect mercy from a lioness robbed of her
" Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.""
The only man for whom In her long life of
loving Lady Julia has ever felt something
approaching real passion, and not mere
desire, has been taken from her, and by that
pale girl sitting there — a girl, moreover, who
she has always hated.
No one knows better than herself that she
will never get Brian back again — that the fire
of dead love can never be re-kindled ; but
she has still one consolation left — Veea at
least shall not go unpunished.
Lady Hermlone has prepared the ground ;
A WANDERING STAR. 1 67
she always was better at whispering away a
character than herseh'', and the former's
meaning looks, inuendoes, and falsehoods,
have prepared the Blankshire mind for
Lady Julia can now strike, and strike to
She pulls up her horses, either by accident
or design, close to The Towers waggonette
— the wheels are all but touching. Lady
Hermione might put out her hand and clasp
that of the girl who sits there. Everybody is
looking at those who have newly arrived on
the scene, and both the sisters know that the
moment has come.
Lady Julia turns half round, and as she does
so she looks at Vega full in the face — looks
at her haughtily and contemptuously, and
without one ray of recognition. There is no
mistake about it — there can be no discussion
in future on the subject. The cut 'is in-
tentional, and as such every one acknow-
Lady Hermione is looking about her : her
black, expressive eyes are here, there, and
1 68 A WANDERING STAR.
everywhere, but she Is not so bold as her
sister. She does not cut the girl : she simply
overlooks her. She does not appear Indeed
to see her at all, though she knows In some
mysterious way the look of the poor victim
when the blow falls, sees her shiver under
her furs, and remarks how pale the small
face grows all of a sudden. She sees all this,
because she would not miss the slo^ht of It for
the world. Even if Veo^a had never crossed
her path, never incurred her anger, she
would still have seen her suffer joyfully, for
it recalls to her the days when she too had
to bear the brunt of her sins. In her case,
she had no Injustice to complain of; Indeed,
if her misdemeanours had been only a trifle
less flagrant, she would have got oft" al-
together ; but this reflection does not make
her more merciful.
She turns away at last, as she catches
sight of Lady Hautalne and her court at
the open window. She sees from the satis-
fied expression on the face of that immacu-
late dame that the scene has not been lost
on her, and she feels everything is now as it
A WANDERING STAR. 1 69
should be, and that it will not be the fault of
the great lady of the county If Mrs. Mossop
ever holds up her head In Blankshire again.
By this time Lady Julia Darner has thrown
off her great fur-lined coat, has given the
reins to Lady Hermlone, and, assisted by
Bertie Vanslttart, who has never failed her
In his life, and surrounded by two or three
more red-coated admirers, she proceeds to
mount the well-bred chestnut that Is to have
the honour of carrying her, no doubt
Her sister's attention has been diverted
from Vega for a few minutes, and when she
looks round again the waggonette Is gone,
and Mrs. Mossop is being driven back to
Were Vega but a little older, it is possible
she micrht be able to estimate at their true
value the insults she has had to endure at
the hands of her persecutors. The mind
grows inured to sorrow as the years roll on ;
it hurts, but the pain is a duller one ; at any
rate, the end is seen so much more distinctly
and clearly. But in extreme youth every-
I/O A WANDERING STAR.
thing appears Interminable — joy — sorrow —
life itself, seem as if they would last for
ever, and if there is more recuperative
power, there is also less resistance to the
The sorrows of an ordinary life seemed
lived through In that long solitary drive
home. The March wind blows cold and
piercing across the grey fields that lie on
either side of the road ; there is no ray of
sunshine ; all is a flat, dull, neutral tint, harsh
outlines, and cheerless distinctness.
Such surroundings might tell on the spirits
of any one — might depress even those who
are gay and happy. They have no effect on
Vega — the wind chills her, but she does not
feel it, and the shrill cry of the curlev/ falls
unheeded on her ear.
She feels utterly hopeless — she Is but
young in years, but she is worn out with the
uphill fight at last ! She is now beaten, and
as she reviews her life, she falls to wondering
vaguely why she should always have been so
She thinks of her childish and youthful
A WANDERING STAR. 171
clays at Dieppe — the struggles — the dire
poverty — the sense of shame that always
seemed to hang over herself and her father ;
the tragic and pitiful death of the man for
whom no one wept, not even his own child ;
then she recalls those early days at Conholt,
when she was ignored, slighted and, at the
same time, the mark of malicious, though
petty, persecution. Ah ! stop though ! even
she had her beattx jotirs there.
Yes ! she had danced at a certain domino
ball — had sat in the rose-garden with Brian
Beresford — had dreamt that dream of love
and happiness which, to the best of us, is
never much more than a dream. But then
there v/as the dreadful awakening to find
that her lover had betrayed her, laughed at
her, failed her, and that she had no option
but to marry a man whom she all but disliked.
She was penniless, utterly friendless — how
could she help It ? but for all that she has
been well punished. Life at The Towers
has been no bed of roses. Mr. Mossop, as
a companion, grates on her every hour of the
day : they have not a thought, not an idea in
172 A WANDERING STAR.
common, and there are moments — rare per
haps — but still moments, when she feels a
perfect loathing for him. Then, late In the
day — too late — she finds that Brian loves
her, has never been false to her, that they
might have been happy after all ; and now
that a gleam of joy, though clouded by
regret, has come Into her life, her enemies are
implacable as ever.
They rob her, first, of her girl companion ;
they rob her of her good name, and they
will part her from Brian in the end.
She wonders hopelessly what her life will
be when he has gone out of it, and so won-
dering she reaches the house that she calls
home. How lonely she feels — has always
felt — in It, and its pretentious vulgarity and
over-gilded splendour oppress her to-day
more than ever. She can hardly face her
elaborate luncheon in the gloomy renais-
sance dining-room, or the observant looks of
the three mutes who noiselessly glide about
the room. She knows they see and take
notes of her tear-stained countenance, for
nothing escapes them. If she had some
A WANDERING STAR. I 73
one — even Dottle — to talk to, who would
listen to her wrongs, feel for her, be even
angrier than she herself could be, she thinks
she could bear her troubles better.
But they have taken away Dottle too !
Surely never was any one so forlorn ! Alas !
Vega has Indeed suffered, but the hardest
blow that Fortune has yet aimed at her Is
still to fall, and it Is none the less dangerous
that she welcomes It as the best, the only,
consolation that can come to her.
Brian Beresford, till to-day, has been eager
to find a pretext not to be a guest of Mr
Mossop. He will not even set foot in The
Towers if he can possibly avoid it, but he
now unbidden breaks his own rule.
Vega has been the whole afternoon in her
usual corner in the conservatory, with her
own thoughts for company ; they all run in the
same groove, for over and over again does
she recall the morning's scene, and over
and over again does she see in imagina-
tion Lady Julia's haughty face turned full
towards her, and Lady Hermlone's sinister
one as it looks steadily away. She conjures
174 ^ WANDERING STAR,
up the Other figures that were grouped
around, apparently watching and enjoying
the scene ; and there Is no doubt that she
beHeves she read maHcIous curiosity in the
expression of their faces as they saw her
being tortured, which could hardly have
Beresford, on his side, has gathered some-
thing of what has happened from the owner
of The Grange, whose weight-carrier going
lame early In the day has been obliged to
come home early, He tells Brian a con-
fused sort of story, but the latter, who can
read Lady Julia like a book, and who mis-
trusts Lady Hermlone even more than her
bolder sister, can see the whole scene as If
he had assisted at It. •
He can also see in Imagination his little
love, forlorn — broken-hearted, utterly cast
down. No doubt it would be wiser, truer
kindness to stay away from her side now,
perhaps to stay away from her for ever ; but
love is stronger than chains — he has no
option — no will left — and when the chilly
brightness of an early Spring day is fading
A WANDERING STAR. I 75
into yet more cheerless twilight Brian stands
beside her. Lady Hermione, could she look
in at this moment, would know, helped by
her vast experience, that there is danger in
the air, and she would laugh for joy. Brian
and Vega only know that they are together,
and that even Fate cannot rob them of all
But the tide is running high, and soon
they will be ofT their feet altogether.
"My darling," he says in an unsteady
voice, while her hand clings round his as if
she must clasp it for ever, "this can't last.
You can't go on for ever^like this. If you
were even tolerably happy I would die sooner
than ask you to leave your home, but as
things are, you must come with me. You
will never regret it. I swear to you I will
make you happy beyond your wildest dreams.
My little Vega, I can't]_live without you."
Ah ! that is the argument that has led
astray many a woman before her, and the
words have not yet been spoken for the last
Brian means them, and his listener be-
176 A WANDERING STAR.
lleves them, and as she so listens, prudence
is thrown to the winds.
No wonder ! The Fitzpatricks always
were a wild and reckless race, and, after all,
she is her father's child. If he made ship-
wreck of his whole life by one mad act — an
act which many as bad as himself, but more
cautious, would not have had the pluck to
attempt — it is not wonderful that his child
should, by all the laws of heredity, follow in
his footsteps. En avaiit, les erifants pei^dus.
" You have something to lose, darling, I
know that," he goes on ; ''but right or wrong,
I can't part from you now. Don't speak to
me about your husband. You never cared
for him, and all he ever cared for was money.
What are you afraid of, my child ? Not the
world's opinion now ? "
'' What is the alternative ? " she asks in a
whisper, and her face, as he looks at it in
the fading light, is perfectly colourless.
" The reverse of the medal is that we
should never meet again. I tell you fairly,
it must be one thing or the other. I should
leave England, probably for my old haunts
A WANDERING STAR. I 77
In Oregon, but this time it would be for ever.
Yes, Vega, these are no empty words spoken
to frighten you. You must see for yourself
that the present situation can't last. Half
measures are no good. Vega, darling Vega,
don't fail me ; don't you know you would
be happy with me ? "
Their lips meet, and in that wild embrace
their doom is sealed.
Before he leaves her it is quite dark,
which perhaps is all the better when the road
has to be mapped out that leads to dishonour.
The reckless side of Vega's character is
uppermost now, and she means to revenge
herself on a world that has treated her so
hardly. She forgets that it will be an unequal
match from the very beginning ; but clasped
in the arms of the only man she ever loved,
she cannot foresee the punishment which will
come so swiftly.
Before he leaves her he has made every
arrangement for their disastrous journey.
There is something almost repulsive about
all the prosaic arrangements that have to be
made. Vega's departure from her husband's
VOL. III. N
178 A WANDERING STAR.
house must not be left to chance, but must
be planned and thought out as carefully as if
it was not an utterly unexpected and lawless
step. The commonplace, practical side comes
uppermost, and jars on the highly-strung,
over-excited mind in a curiously painful way.
It is terrible to have to concoct plans
which will delay the chances of discovery
as long as possible ; to make a rendezvous
of some utterly commonplace locality ; to
settle even the train by which she is to meet
Brian ; to go over it all step by step, to pre-
vent any chance of a mistake.
It is not a hard task in itself, it is only too
easy, but the conscience gives unexpected
twinges as the route is mapped out. It grates
horribly on the nerves to be obliged to use
her husband's carriage to take her the first
stage of her downhill journey, and yet any-
thing else would arouse suspicion at once.
The idea of starting alone is positively
frightening, and yet it is wiser far to meet
Brian at some appointed place than that he
should come in person to take her from
A WANDERING STAR. I 79
But she does not waver ; the die was cast
when Beresford told her the alternative : she
cannot live without him.
The full consequences of the step she is
about to take are not so distinct and fatal in
her eyes as they would be to most women.
The world has been such an unkind one to her
that its praise or blame counts but for little.
She has known "scathe and shame, and a
waefu' name " already, and custom makes
one sadly callous.
If she thought that her husband would
really care, that but one human being would
care, it might be different, but she believes
herself to be utterly alone.
The light of Brian's eyes blind her to
every earthly consideration, and if ever there
was any one who counted the world well lost
for love it is this girl.
Before he leaves her it is all settled. He
is to go to London to-morrow, arrange his
affairs there, put everything in order for a
long absence, and take their passages to
America ; for, blinded though he may be by
passion also, he still realizes that the old
I So A WANDERING STAR.
world would be too small for them once their
sin was known.
Then he is to return to The Grange for a
night, and the next day he and Vega will
meet never to part.
" I have promised Bowlby " (his heavy
friend) " to hunt a young horse of his that
he means to run in the Hunt Steeplechase,"
says Beresford, " and I am afraid if 1 refused
now he would be full of curiosity. There
has been so much talk about this ride, and as
he is too heavy himself, and the animal is
rather a handful, he would be very much
put out, for he wouldn't give many people
the chance of breaking their necks off him.
He thinks me worthy of that honour, and I
couldn't decline at the last moment without
a good deal more talk than I should care for.
I think the wisest plan will be for me to hunt
on Friday as settled. The meet is a long
way off, I will send the horse home early in
the day, and meet you at Overton in the
afternoon. You will not fail me, my darling,
will you ? and we will get the evening train
to London from there."
A WANDERING STAR. l8l
He need not fear ! He has but to
speak now, and she will obey him ; there
will be no more indecision, no wavering
on her part ; she is his now, body and
As they stand together, saying the last
good-bye they will ever have to say, Miss
Mossop, blithe, boisterous, and full of
life, and vigorous health, bursts in on
There has been no tragic element in her
day ! She has galloped, and jumped till
the bitter blast of March seemed to her
only fresh and bracing, and now she
comes bringing, as it were, a whiff of the
cold night air with her into the unwhole-
some, scent-laden atmosphere of the con-
She is a regular hearty, wholesome, out-of-
doors woman, and the keen air outside is
more to her taste than this stifling warmth ;
she likes as little also the aspect of affairs as
far as Vega is concerned.
The two are not talking as she enters, but
there is something about their silence that
1 82 A WANDERING STAR.
Strikes her as dangerous, and as she looks
from one to the other her jovial face grows
serious, and she shakes her head as she
has had occasion to shake It so often
A WANDERING STAR, l8^
" Oh ! waly, waly ! but love is bonnie
A little time while it is new.
But when it's auld it waxes cauld,
And fades away like morning dew."
Now that Vega's feet are set on the
downward path it seems as if everything
combines for her destruction. She is deter-
mined to go to ruin, and hers is not the
nature to count the cost. At the same time
it is possible that she, who all her life has
longed for kindness and experienced so little
of it, might still be saved w^ere the hand of
friendship held out to her boldly. But no
such hand touches hers, and it is an unfor-
tunate coincidence that Mr. Mossop has
never been so troublesome, so bumptious, or
so difficult before. It is part of his nature
184 A WANDERING STAR.
to bear malice, and he has not forgottei^u
how his wife thwarted him at Hautaine
Castle yesterday. Things had heen so
different to what he had intended them to
be. He had seen himself in fancy accepted
as one of themselves by the Hautaines !
He had believed that Vega would be a bond
of union between the great family and him-
self, and his skin would have been thick
enough to have stood even Lady Hautaine's
lofty scorn could he have got into the
charmed circle at all.
Vega's refusal upset all his calculations.
To be sure Lord Hautaine shook hands with
him, but he seemed hazy about his name,
and did not in any way pick him out from
the crowd, while Lady Hautaine looked him
up and down through her gold-rimmed
glasses, and her glances would have struck
terror into a stouter heart than the unfortu-
nate parvenu was furnished with.
He now insists that Vega acted as she did
on purpose to annoy him, and he as good as
tells her he does not see what use she is to
him at all.
A WANDERING STAR. 1 85
" Vm blest if I see what's the good of
you, Miss Vega," he says to his wife the
evening before the day on which she means
that he should be rid of her society for ever.
*' Hush ! Albert ! hush ! You've no
business to speak like that!" says Miss
She is never afraid of her brother, and
does not care if she diverts his wrath to her-
self, if by so doing she can shield her poor
"When I want your advice, Miss Mossop,
I will ask for it!" says her brother, pompously.
" I am quite capable of speaking to my wife
without your assistance!"
They are sitting, a dreary trio, in the
*' Versailles gallery " after dinner. Mr.
Mossop is not exactly the worse for liquor,
but he has certainly taken a trifle more than
is good for him. He fills well the great
gilded chair, whose florid ornamentation
might have suited the grandeur of a French
palace, and the regal air of " him men called
the Grand Monarque," but Mr. Mossop
looks thoroughly out of place in it, and his
1 86 A WANDERING STAR.
flushed countenance and heavy clumsy figure
have nothing very royal about them.
He is talking loudly, and just a little
thickly, and Vega, as she looks at him, feels
half glad that he looks as he does. Her
justification is himself.
" I am not a swell," he goes on, *^ and
don't pretend to be one " (oh ! Mr. Mossop !
in a perfectly sober moment, you would not
have owned as much). "■ I am a plain man,
and like getting my money's worth, and that*s
what I have not got out of you, Mrs.
Mossop. I don't say it's your fault. You
can't help it ; but you're no companion to
me^ like Charley here is, for all her preach-
ing, and a man gets tired of a pretty face
when there's nothing else to come and go
on. I wanted to climb up the tree a bit, and
I thought you and your fine relations might
have given me a leg up — but hang me if its
not the other way on. They won't look our
way, and you won't look theii^ way, from pure
cussedness. Yes, that's what it is. You
think it would please me, and that's enough
for you. You wouldn't do that for all I am
A WANDERING STAR. 1 87
worth," and his red face becomes more
heated, and he works himself up into a state
of maudlin pity for himself.
It would have made Vega wince a night
or two ago ; she listens to him now in a dull
indifferent kind of way, while at the same time
there runs through her head a curious feeling
of satisfaction, for every harsh, coarse word
he utters seems in a measure to condone her
sin. She forgets, and is glad to forget, that
in his sober moments he is incapable of hurt-
ing her feelings ; looking at him as he is
suits her present frame of mind better.
The morning of the next day passes like
a dream ; indeed there seems a want of
reality about everything that positively sur-
prises her. She wanders about the house
knowing that she is doing so for the last
time, but she feels neither joy nor sorrow.
She paces down the gilded gallery, stands
between walls of bloom in the conservatory,
looks at the familiar objects which have
always been indifferent to her, and with the
exception of a passing pang as she opens the
door of the room inhabited by Dottie in the
1 88 A WANDERING STAR.
visit SO lately cut short, she might be a
stranger in her husband's house.
She felt more sorry when she left that
poor, mean, shabby house at Dieppe, sad-
dened by the tragedy of her father's death.
Now she can laugh — ''a shadow of
laughter like a sigh " — when she thinks that
never again will she hear the value of the
'' Trianon suite" discussed, or the extravagant
charges, and excellent taste of Messrs. Dado
8z Frieze enlarged on ; she will never again
see Mr. Mossop, pompous and fussy, stand-
ing at his usual post near the door on
guest nights, or listen to his discussion after
the last visitor has departed as to whethe r
the banquet spread for them had or had not
'' been up to the mark."
He may spend his evenings In heavy sleep
on the satin-decked sofa, or too much
champagne may make him quarrelsome
and argumentative, but she will not be a
The last morning passes away quietly, and
with equal quiet does she leave all the home
she has known for two years. There is no
A WANDERING STAR. 1 89
agitation, no flurry, but she feels as if she
were walking in her sleep.
She does everything by rote : she had
made up her mind to the fatal plunge before
hand, and all she now does is to follow
blindly the course mapped out. It is said
that a sudden shock to mind or body takes
away for the timebeing all sense of pain,
or power of feeling, and it is much the
same when any great decision has been
She is a mere machine now. She tells the
coachman who has driven her to the station
that he need not wait for her, and though his
well-trained face shows no surprise, as indeed
it would not were the trial far harder, it is
she who is astonished that her voice sounds
much as usual.
By that order she cuts herself adrift from
all that is proper, respectable, and virtuous,
and she knows it. Men will smile and
women look askance when they see her.
She will be an outcast, a pariah from this
moment, and yet it is no effort to her to pro-
nounce her own sentence of social death.
IQO A WANDERING STAR.
But she seems all of a sudden to have
grown oddly alert and sensitive.
She takes to wondering If It Is accident or
design that makes the ticket collector ask her
twice over where she wishes to go, and she
is not sure if the two porters who fuss about
her do so for the purpose of spying or
simply In hopes that she may tip them as
handsomely as Mr. Mossop is In the habit of
doing. She is surprised that she should
think of such trifles, and It Is also odd to her
that when she sees some neighbours come on
to the platform her first Impulse Is to hide
If she lives long enough she will know by
bitter experience how best to avoid curious
and unfriendly eyes, but It is strange that
she should begin so soon.
In a dream she travels the short railway
journey, gets out at Overton station, and
walks, for It is but a hundred yards off, to the
only hotel In the place — If the " Hautaine
Arms," half tavern, half house of call for
commercial travellers, can be dignified by
such a name.
A WANDERING STAR. I9I
It is one of those inns that abound now-a-
clays without either old-fashioned comfort or
modern advantao^es, but with a certain
amount of cheap and vulgar pretension. As
she crosses the threshold the girl begins to
feel lonely in good earnest. She had counted
the moments till the train stopped at the
station, feeling it was a certainty that Brian
would be waiting for her there, as agreed
on ; possibly he too might be hiding just at
first, but he would be there beyond all
But the platform is deserted by all but an
old man, who mumbles the name of the
station in tones that no passenger, however
intelligent, could possibly make out, and a
baby-porter of ten or twelve, who, after
hurling some tin boxes larger than himself
out of the van, dashes to the entrance gate
as if to defend it single-handed from stray
There is no Brian at the hotel either, or
any word of him, and as Vega stands in its
small and not over-clean entrance hall, the
sound of revelry coming from the bar, and
192 A WANDERING STAR.
the appearance of one or two befuddled
rustics, who look at her with curiosity, some-
what alarm her.
The eagle eye of the barmaid, a lady with
extremely red cheeks and a greasy black
fringe, Is also fixed on her, as its owner
gazes at the new arrival from an open window
that gives on the passage. There is no
hostility In her unflinching stare, but there is
a good deal of superiority.
She cannot make Vega out at all, and any-
thinof Miss Mounser does not understand
must have, to use her own words, something
'* fishy " about it.
At the same time she knows " the queer
ways of gentlefolks," and waits for the other
to take the initiative. Vega finds words at
last. " I expected to meet Mr. Beresford
here. Is he not arrived ? "
" O'ho ! " thinks Miss Mounser, her bold
black eyes twinkling as they seem to spy
out some scandal ; " that's the name of the
good-looking young gent as has taken
No. 5. What does she want with him, I
wonder ? She's not his wife, I warrant.
A WANDERING STAR. I 93
Married ladies have more bounce about
them, let them be as young as they like, and
if he's her fancy man, and she's meeting him
on the sly like, why the ' Hautaine Arms '
is a queer sort of place for them to pitch
on." Aloud she says, with dignity, '' Mr.
Beresford have taken No. 5 here, but I was
not awear he expected visitors. We never
like to offend our customers, and I don't
know if I ought to ask you to step up there
to wait till he comes."
Mrs. Mossop has no answer ready, and
Miss Mounser relents.
'' I daresay it's all right, Miss."
She rings the bell majestically ; it is
answered by a red-armed Cinderella, who has
evidently suspended operations in the
scullery to attend to the summons.
'* Show the lady to No. 5," says the bar-
maid, without turning her head, in tones that
would be haughty if used by the Czar of
Russia to the meanest of his subjects, and
Cinderella clatters up the creaking stairs
before Mrs. Mossop, and throws open the
door of the sitting-room with a flourish.
VOL. III. o
194 'A WANDERING STAR.
Surely nothing short of a condemned cell
could be more depressing than the appearance
of No. 5. To be forced to wait for any length
of time in such a room, and alone, might
strike terror into the stoutest heart. It is not
even small, so could never by any possibility
be made snug, and as it is rarely entered,
except on market days, when a few well-to-do
farmers in the neighbourhood hold a sort of
'' ordinary" there, it feels like a grave. The
large table round which these worthies sit
when they devour tough beef and pickles,
washed down by heady beer, is now covered
by a huge crochet tablecloth of glaring
colours, on each corner of which is placed a
brightly - bound book, the centre being
occupied by a stuffed kingfisher under a glass
case. There is a horsehair-covered sofa,
with chairs to match, and an '' occasional "
table is covered with more glass cases con-
taining curiosities in feather, flower, and
bead- work. It is a ghastly room altogether,
and stray puffs of smoke from a newly-lighted
fire do not improve matters. At the best of
times it would be a trial to find oneself there ;
A WANDERING STAR. 1 95
but for Vega, in her present overwrought,
excited state, it is positive torture.
Every five minutes seems an hour as she
sits shivering, as much from nervousness as
from cold. She has tried to think till the
power of thinking seems actually to have
left her. What has happened ? Has she
made some mistake as to day, or hour, or
place ? Has anything been discovered ?
She knows that Brian could not fail her ;
but why does he not come '^. What is to
become of her if he never comes at all ?
Cinderella stumps in again to light a gas
burner, innocent of globe or shade, and takes
her fill of staring as she fumbles with the
match. Mrs. Mossop is evidently an object
of the greatest interest in her eyes, and no
wonder, for Miss Mounser and the landlord
have been talking her over for the last hour
in the bar, and she has been able to over-
hear a good deal of their conversation.
In self-defence Vega leaves her chair and
wanders about the room, but neither a print
of Lord Hautaine in full uniform as colonel
of the Blankshire Yeomanry, or a coarse
196 A WANDERING STAR.
engraving representing Noah surrounded by
his family and a good many animals, offer-
ing up a sacrifice on the top of Mount
Ararat, seems to have the power of fixing
her attention. She examines the gaudily-
bound books on the centre table one after
the other. The first is a collection of poems
by a local genius, printed by subscription ;
laboured rhymes which the author himself
could hardly have understood ; the next, a
guide to Blankshire. Mrs. Mossop takes it
up, and mechanically turns to a florid and
highly-coloured description of The Towers.
It gives her a curious feeling that amounts
to positive pain when she reads her own
name there: "Married, in 188-, Vega, only
child of the late Ralph and Lady Mary Fitz-
patrick, and niece of the Earl of Hautaine."
What pleasure and pride Mr. Mossop
had doubtless taken in that description of
his wife. How well he would think it read !
How satisfactory to have the Hautaine name
and his own united, at least in print ! His
wife puts down the book with a sigh, and by
a strange perversity of the human mind, he
A WANDERING STAR. J 97
comes before her for the moment, not as the
drinking, boasting, coarse-minded and ill-
mannered man he has seemed to her lately,
but as the kind-hearted husband who, in spite
of all his snobbishness and vulgarity, has some
real affection for herself His side of the ques-
tion suddenly seems to strike her ; his admi-
ration of her beauty, his pride in it and her,
the substantial benefits he has poured on
her — they all will come into her head at
once. After all, what harm has he ever
done her? He married her — a penniless
girl, with a tainted name. It is hardly his
fault that nature cast him In so coarse a
mould, that they have not an idea or feeling
in common. She has room in her heart for
sorrow for him, as well as for herself, as she
sits there, and she has plenty of time for
thought, for hour after hour drags on, and
still she Is alone. The kitchen clock in the
room below strikes seven. She has been here
nearly three hours. Night will soon be on in
good earnest. What, In Heaven's name, is
to become of her? But hush! she hears a
noise of voices and footsteps on the stairs.
198 A WANDERING STAR.
There Is a small commotion in the house.
Something has happened. Brian must have
come — have come at last ; and in his presence
she will forget all her troubles.
She hears Miss Mounser's loud metallic
voice, and she hears a manly footstep. The
barmaid is evidently showing the w^ay up-
stairs herself to Brian, but surely she will
leave him at the door ? Vega wants no
witnesses when she and her love meet.
Nothing but his arms around her, his kisses
on her mouth, will make her forget what
she has suffered, will blind her to what is
before her still.
The door opens — and Mr. Mossop stands
before her !
He is still in his red coat and splashed
boots and breeches, and no doubt looks as
sturdy, thick-set, and undignified as usual ;
but Vega has her eyes fixed on his face, and
can see nothino: else.
It is hardly to be expected of the husband
of an erring wife, one who has left him for
another man, and who has only been over-
taken by her lawful owner after the journey has
A WANDERING STAR. 1 99
begun, that he should look particularly calm
or composed. It is hard to keep a proper
command over one's looks when one's happi-
ness is about to be wrecked for ever, one's good
name dragged through the mire, and when the
worst blow that can strike a man has already
befallen him. But Mr. Mossop looks neither
wrathful nor passionate. He does not bluster,
nor do loud tones break the silence when
Miss Mounser at last shuts the door and
leaves him alone with his wife.
Any one might see that he has suffered
frightfully — has had some terrible shock which
has quite unnerved him ; but his eyes are
full of sympathy as he looks at the shrlnk-
inof fio^ure and the dead white face of the
girl who In the opinion of the world has
played him the worst trick that any woman
can play her husband. He has suddenly
grown the dignified one of the two ; his plain
face is, as It were, transfigured, and the
mercy that shines in his eyes might well
condone some of the petty faults and fallings
that Veea had found so unbearable in the
past. The tables are turned now — the
200 A WANDERING STAR.
genuine kindness of the man stands out, and
even at this supreme moment Vega feels
that she has a friend near her. He comes
over to where she is standing, takes her ice-
cold hand in his. and holds it in his strong
grasp ; but her small face looks pinched and
drawn, and she cannot meet his eyes as she
cowers away from him.
" You poor child," he says to her after a
pause ; it is hard for him to find words in
which to tell her what has to be told. He
must break his news to her gently, and yet
even a humdrum, middle-aged, unrefined man
may be allowed some feeling on his side, at
such a time as this. " Vega, I have come
to tell you that — that — Beresford has had a
very bad fall out hunting to-day. He is —
that is — the doctor fears the worst."
He is afraid she will faint, for assuredly
he never saw a human face so ashy-white
before. The blood has all rushed back to her
heart, and for a minute or two her laboured
breathing is the only sound that breaks the
She recovers herself by a mighty effort ;
A WANDERING STAR. 20I
but it is positive gratitude to the man who
stands beside her that gives her so much
strength. She cannot speak — -she is beyond
that — and he goes on a Httle faster : '' It was
in this morning's run that the accident hap-
pened. Beresford was riding a regular brute
— a young thoroughbred that Bowlby wanted
to quahfy for the Hunt Steeplechases after
Easter — the rawest, greenest thing you ever
saw. Beresford eot him over about three
fences after a regular fight at each, and the
next thing was a flight of railings — nothing so
very big after all — but the brute never rose
an inch at it — came head over heels on the
other side ; broke his own back, and when
Beresford was picked up he was all of a —
he was so bad we thought he was dead.
I was close to him when he fell, and got a
gate taken off its hinges, and we carried him
to a farm-house, which was fortunately close
by. He is still unconscious ; but — no, no,
Vega, he is not dead ! " — as she lifts her
eyes to his as if she would read him through
and through — " and while there's life there's
202 A WANDERING STAR.
It costs him a great deal to say those
last words, but he utters thexii manfully,
and, better still, he wishes no evil to the
man who had meant to wrong him so deeply.
We are told to forgive our enemies, and for a
wonder Mr. Mossop obeys the command ; but
perhaps even he might have found it beyond
his powers if that enemy was not lying at the
point of death, or had not more likely by this
time shuffled off this mortal coil altogether.
''You won't refuse to come home with me,
will you, Vega ? Poor little girl ! we are
your best friends after all, and I think you
know us well enough — Charley and I — to be
quite certain that bygones will be bygones.
You didn't know what you were about
to-day. You didn't think how you would
hurt me, did you, Vega ? " and his voice
shakes very perceptibly. " No, no ! You are
such a child, but you have had a sad lesson.
Now we must think about going back to The
Towers. Charley will be in a dreadful state
if we don't get home to-night. We must
catch the late train to Grimthorpe, and drive
from there. Do you care to know how I
A WANDERING STAR. 203
found out where you were ? " he asks, as
they resign themselves to two more hours'
dreary waiting in dismal No. 5, for the
London train does not reach Overton station
till nearly ten o'clock. "It was your friend
Dottle Langton who came to tell me what
was going on, and to entreat me to do some-
thing. I had ridden straight home from the
farm-house where I had left Beresford, feel-
ing uncommonly upset, as you may imagine,
when I was told that Miss Langton had
been waiting to see me for the last hour.
I went Into the library and found her there
in the most dreadful state of excitement.
She had found out — Heaven knows how —
that things were going wrong, and she came
straight over to let me know. She had the
greatest possible difficulty in getting over
from Conholt ; but it seems the stud groom is a
friend of hers, and he drove her to The Towers
in some sort of tax-cart. She talked wildly
about some promise she had once made to
stand your friend, and she was ready to go
on her knees to beg me to try to bring you
back. It was a dreadful shock to her when
204 A WANDERING STAR.
I told her about Beresforcl ; but it made her
all the more anxious about you. Believe
me, Vega, I didn't need much persuasion to
come after you. What I might have done
if things had been different I don't know.
Perhaps poor Dottle might have spoken to
me in vain."
He rambles on, hardly knowing what he
is talking about ; but that is of little con-
sequence, for she does not take it in very
well. She Is so confused — she feels stupid
and giddy. If she was obliged to say what
had happened within the last few hours she
could hardly do It ; but she Is thankful that
Mr. Mossop should talk. If he kept silence,
and If the two figures who sit facing each
other on either side of the fire were both
mute, It would be still more dreadful. She feels
his kindness, though everything seems vague
and Indistinct around her. He fusses out
of the room for some tea, and when It comes
he will not let Miss Mounser or Cinderella
bring it Into the room, but receives It him-
self at the door, for he does not wish to
expose her to the fire of prying eyes. He
A WANDERING STAR. 205
even succeeds, after a prolonged struggle
with the fire, In making It burn a little
better, and the warmth comforts Vega In
spite of herself; and when he rolls her In her
long cloak, trimmed with costly furs, that
he had given her so lately and swaggered
about so much, and enlarged on the price in
such an annoying manner, and when the
time at last comes to leave that dreadful
room, he saves her from Miss Mounser's
burning curiosity, and from the stolid and
unflinching stare of her aide-de-camp.
If refinement and good breeding are, and
always will be, wanting in Mr. Mossop, this
much must be allowed : that, when actually
put to the test, his kind heart makes up for
It is possible that a more refined man
might have forgiven her less fully, and that
a man with greater depth of feeling might
have felt the shame and disgrace much
more keenly ; if so, it is fortunate indeed
that Mr. Mossop is made of coarser, stouter,
fibre, for if ever any one had need of a
friend it Is Vega.
206 A WANDERING STAR.
It would appear as If every one In Blank-
shire must have seen her as she left her
husband's house and went away, as she
thought, for ever. Her friends know
every particular ; they remind each other
that they had foretold her flight for months ;
they make merry over the desolate hours
spent by the girl at the '' Hautalne Arms,"
and think it an exquisite joke that her
husband, and not her lover, should have
been first at the tryst. They laugh at Mr.
Mossop's folly in taking her home again,
and find so much that Is ludicrous In the
whole miserable business that they miss the
tragic side of it altogether.
But Vega cares nothing for their scorn.
She does not see their contemptuous smiles.
She would not hear their voices raised In
blame or disdain were they ten times as
loud. That will all come later — In good
time they will make her wince. As the
years roll on she will learn the lesson that
for some the world has no mercy, and that
she Is one of them.
But she is dead to all such considerations
A WANDERING STAR. 207
now, for her whole Hfe, her every thought
and feeling, is bound up in Brian Beresford,
who is lying apparently at the point of death
in the farm-house where he was carried after
his accident by Mr. Mossop and others, and
from which there is every likelihood he will
soon be taken to the village churchyard.
208 A WANDERIXG STAR.
"Scathe and shame, and a wafu' name,
And a weary time and strange
Have they that, seeing a weird for dreeing,
Can die and cannot change.
Shame and scorn may we thole that mourn,
Though sair be they to dree,
But ill may we bide the thoughts we hide
Mair keen than wind or sea."
" Oh ! my dear ! my dear ! can nothing be
done to comfort you? It breaks my heart
to see you like this. You must try and
rouse yourself a little — you will die if you
go on fretting."
Plenty of people would be horrified could
they have heard Miss Mossop talking to her
young sister-in-law in words of kindness and
sympathy. According to them, she, of all
people, ought to turn away her honest eyes
from one who had strayed, or at least done
A WANDERING STAR. 209
her best to stray from the paths of virtue.
*' It Is very dangerous to tamper with vice,"
says Mrs. Grundy, piously, " and it is hardly
possible to conceive anything more bold and
brazen than the conduct of this young Mrs.
Mossop, or more ill-advised than Miss Mos-
sop's behaviour." Not only do the Pharisees
of society look on Miss Mossop's staunch
support of Vega as a proof of something
dangerously lax about her own morals, but
there are others who call her the champion
of vice, who might have well been expected
to take a broader view.
Lady Hermione, whose conscience bears
the weight of a hundred sins — sins none the
less deadly because of the veil which has
hidden them from the eyes of a world that,
for some inscrutable reason, has never cared
to lift it — Lady Julia, who has been auda-
ciously bold and reckless — who has all but
outraged public decency, but who has known
how to gain forgiveness by giving society all
it wanted, and by her very Indifference to its
praise or blame — these, and others like
thern, are loud In their condemnation of Miss
VOL. III. p
,2IO A WANDERING STAR.
Mossop. They cannot hold their peace,
and it would be hard indeed on the poor
friendless girl if they could make any im-
pression on Miss Mossop. But Miss Charley
has received from Nature more common
sense and clearness of vision than falls to
the share of most women, and her heart is a
heart of gold. She sees and understands
the situation perfectly, and she, who would
always find extenuating circumstances for
the most erring, can feel for Vega. If she had
not been there to stand by her, Vega could
hardly have endured the days that followed
her return home, tortured as she was with
anxiety on Brian's account.
But it is Miss Mossop who supports her,
who comforts her, and who (and here Mrs.
Grundy might indeed hold up her hands in
horror !) finds out in some mysterious way
the issues of life and death as far as Brian is
At the present moment she has just come
in from her afternoon walk, for either in joy
or sorrow Miss Charley cannot bring herself
to forego her constitutional, and after looking
A WANDERING STAR. 2 I I
about everywhere for Vega, she finds her at
last crouching by the fire in the Gallery.
The firelight that falls on the gilded splen-
dour around, falls also on a sad face, white
to the very lips, and eyes that look full of
unshed tears turn sadly to Miss Mossop.
The latter sits down on the chair near her,
and smoothes her fair hair, and strokes her
shoulder, and does everything that a kind
soul can do to show affection and sympathy.
*' Don't look back, Vega clear," she says, as
cheerily as she can manage. "What good does
it do to any one to mope for ever ? You
must — we must all hope for the best," for
she knows that, in spite of everything, the
girl's head is full of Brian and his sufferings,
and that she never thinks of anything else.
" I will — I will, Charley, later on," answers
Vega, and her voice sounds woe-begone
indeed ; '' but, oh ! Charley, what am I to do
now? Read this letter," and her trembling
fingers hand the paper they hold to the
other. " I will obey you in everything, I
promise you that, but don't make it too hard
for me," and she falls to weeping, her poor
2 12 A WANDERING STAR.
face buried in her hands, while her sister-in-
law reads the letter she has been given.
The writing is laboriously clear and distinct,
but the pen of a ready writer did not trace
those fine strokes and curling characters.
It has been the work of a careful hand,
whose owner no doubt felt a certain amount
of pride when the task was done. It runs
thus : —
" Great Bridlington Farm, Blanksbire.
'' Honoured Madam,
" Pardon the liberty I take in thus addressing you,
but Mr. Beresford wishes me to inform you that he will
Goon be leaving us. He doesn't want to do so, poor
gentleman, but the great London doctors want him to
be near themselve=;, and he is to be took up to London
the day after to-morrow. He wouldn't go to-morrow,
though his sister and them all wanted it, but he tells me
to say he must say good-bye to you before he goes, and
wouldn't you come over just to see h'm for five minutes,
and to shake him by the hand. Do, dear lady, if you
can, for you might be sorry afterwards as you hadn't
"Your obedient humble servant,
" Mrs. Hales."
Miss Mossop reads it twice over before
she speaks, and the sad eyes of the other
watch her all the time.
A WANDERING STAR. 2 I 3
"It would be very rough on my brother if
you went," she says ; " but I think you vites^
go all the same." She does not say that
Vega is bound to obey a dying man's wish,
but that is what she means, and Vega un-
derstands her perfectly.
" Let me see," she goes on with her usual
decision and practical clear-sightedness ;
" Great Bridlington, is, I suppose, a dozen
miles from here. I must drive you over.
We shall take no one v/ith us — and Vega, I
think you will be bound to tell my brother
what vou have done sooner or later, but not
beforehand. I should advise you to say
nothing about it just now."
The next day is not cold, or at any rate
not colder than an English April day usually
is, but before Great Bridlington is reached
Vega is shaking like an aspen leaf Her
very teeth chatter, and she is past speaking
when Miss Mossop pulls up at the gate of
the farm. A small old-fashioned garden is
between the house and the road, and as Vega
gets down the comfortable, comely mistress
of the place advances to meet her.
2 14 A WANDERING STAR.
" I shall leave you here for half an hour,"
says Miss Mossop to her sister-in-law, "but
I don't think you ought to stay longer, Vega,"
and she drives slowly along the road, leaving
Vega in the company of Mrs. Hales.
" There now, ma'am, I a?u glad to see
you," says the latter, with effusive welcome,
as happy as if sickness and death had •
nothing to say to her visitor's arrival on the
scene. " Poor gentleman, he be very bad
to-day, and it would be hard to disappoint a
Vega's limbs totter under her ; will they
ever carry her across that little garden, or
will she faint outright on the narrow gravel
path that seems to be swaying up and down
like a ship in a storm ? She does not know ;
but she hears Mrs. Hales' cheerful, uncon-
cerned voice as if it were a dozen miles off,
•even though she does not miss a word of
what she says. The mistress of Great
Bridlington is by no means heartless, but in
her own words "she has seen a heap of
trouble," and takes a morbid kind of pleasure
in discussing melancholy subjects.
A WANDERING STAR. 215
** I wish you had seen him when he was
brought into my kitchen," continues Mrs.
Hales, overjoyed to find a new Hstener to a
story that she knows by heart now. '' Poor
young man, indeed ! His own mother
wouldn't have known him. His face was all
black, and he was that covered with blood
like ! Why, law, miss ! you did give me a
turn to see you," this after Vega has struggled
back to consciousness, after slipping down in a
heap on to the stone step at the front door at
Mrs. Hales' feet. She does not faint dead
away, but she is very near it, and when she
stumbles up she is ghastly white ; '' but I see
how it is ! You're for all the world like me
and mine. We never could a-bear the sound
of blood, let alone the sight of it. Why !
when I saw the poor fellow all streaming like,
I as near as possible went off myself — dropped
on the floor like a stone. Not that I haven't
done my best for him since, though I expect
all my pains has gone for nothing. As I
told Hales last night, he may get round or
he may not, but he'll never make old bones
any ways. Hales did call me no better nor
2l6 A WANDERING STAR.
a fool for saying so ; but we'll see who's the
fool one of these days. It's this way,
ma'am," for they have entered the house,
and are now climbing the creaking stairs.
" You'll find him alone, for his sister drove
into Grimthorpe not an hour agone, and he
made his nurse go out for a walk; but don't
you stay too long with him, miss — ma'am, I
mean. He's not fit for it." She o:ives a
loud knock at a bedroom door, and a weak
voice calls out '' Come in ! "
'' Here's Mrs. Mossop come to see you,"
says Mrs. Hales, in a loud cheerful voice,
the voice always adopted by a certain class
of people in their intercourse with invalids ;
" but, lor, sir ! why you're all in the dark.
This is terrible gloomy ; wait a minute till I
get the blinds up and open the shutters."
Vega cannot see Brian's face, but a hand
looking strangely unlike his stops Mrs. Hales.
'* No! no! leave it like that, please!" gasps
a voice that surely cannot be his, and then
as the farmer's wife bustles out of the room
feeling much disappointed that Vega has not
the chance of seeing the handsome mahogany
A WANDERING STAR. 21/
furniture of the best bedroom, the girl turns
to the bed.
It is nearly pitch dark, but Brian has so
willed it. Brian, once so bold and resolute,
cannot now face the horror he believes he
would read in Vega's eyes were she to see
him as he now is : with all his beauty stamped
out of his face by a horse's hoof, and turned
into an object from which he believes she
must shrink in disgust.
Were his head stronger his mind might
not run on this so much, and he might trust
her more ; but though he has longed to see
his love once ag^ain with a lonorincr that has
been positive torture, now that she stands
beside him he feels he can hardly bear it.
He must hide himself from her, she must
not see his scarred face, she must not remem-
ber him in days to come as he now is. Why
did he ever send for her ? Why did he force
suffering on her ? — she, who has suffered
enough for him already ! Why but he
need not go on, for V^ega bends over him.
Vega's lovely face is close to his, and he
knows there would be no shrinking, no draw-
2l8 A WANDERING STAR.
ing back on her part, If Heaven's fair light
streamed full on his face and if she saw him,
the wreck he now Is, without concealment or
wilful blindness. For he has forgotten how
she loves him ; It must be that, for surely it
would be too hard a trial for most women.
Why, did not Lady Julia Damer almost
force her way Into his room two days ago,
and did he not see even her bold face blanch
when she caught sight of him, and hear her
stormy sobs as she turned away ?
And this one Is but a child In comparison
to Lady Julia, and she has had time lately to
realize for herself, and to perceive, by the
cold face the world turns to her, that he has
tried to lead her astray, to lead her Indeed
to her ruin ; but she forgives him, or rather
she does not forgive him at all ; sJie loves
He has not shed tears since he was a child,
but they run down his marred and wasted
cheeks now as his darling puts her face
close to his and tells him all her love and
It Is wrong; It Is no doubt wicked; she
A WANDERING STAR. 219
should be at home now, repenting of her
former sins In sackcloth and ashes, and doing
her best to forget Beresford. This is all
quite true, and she has but one excuse : it is
for the last time, the last time, and their lips
did not cling together with more love or
passion when they kissed in the rose-garden
on the nio^ht of the masked ball than now
when love and hope are about over.
He knows that they will not meet again ;
that if he by a miracle lives, and in a measure
recovers, that even then the past will never
return. He Is done for, body, and perhaps
mind, though he may still draw the breath
of life and cumber the earth a few years
longer. They hardly speak at all, unless
broken words, terms of endearment, count
for speech, but she clings to him as if she
could never be parted again.
There is a knock at the door at last, and
Vega knows that the supreme moment' has
come ; one more long, long kiss, like the
kiss that is laid on the lips of the dying, and
she goes out of the room where she has
taken farewell, not only of Brian Beresford
2 20 A WANDERING STAR.
but of her own youth, and joy, and happi-
71^ ^ ^ ■JiJ ^
For a long tune after this Vega can hardly
be said to be alive at all, at least if life means
something more than mere existence.
The blow that struck her was so sudden
and violent that no wonder she was stunned
by it. But she makes no outward display of
grief ; and if she does not show a brave
front to the world the unobservant (always
the majority) see but little difference in her.
She gets up — she goes to bed — she drives
and walks at the appointed times. She is
apparently blind and deaf to her husband's
unsteady gait and his confused talk on the
evenings when he exceeds, and in more
sober moments she is ready to play bezique
with him as long as he wishes, or even to
make one in a dreary rubber of whist.
Many of those who once feasted "at The
Towers will not enter its portals now, for
there is a strong party in Blankshire, headed
by Lady Hautaine, and kept together by the
sisters at Conholt, who are afraid that Vega
A WANDERING STAR. 22 1
mieht contaminate them or their belonor-
ings ; but there are others who are not so
merciless, or who, perhaps, are more loath
to give up Mr. Mossop's banquets, and they
find Vega, to all appearance, unchanged.
No doubt she is lovely still — lovely as ever
— for grief in early youth does not turn
golden hair to grey, nor does it draw prema-
turely on smooth skins the cruel lines it
stamps on older faces.
She was always sweet and gentle, and she
is so still ; and it is only the one or two who
know her well who know that her heart is
Dottie's quick eye can read her like a
book ; and she is well aware that when
Vega lost Brian she lost everything that
made life worth having ; while Miss Mos-
sop's kind heart is wrung with grief as she
watches her heroic efforts to do her duty, to
please her husband, to redeem the past.
Miss Charley has an almost maternal feeling
towards the young girl ; and though her
own life has been blameless, well regulated,
and above suspicion, she can still, strange to
22 2 A WANDERING STAR.
say, show mercy to one who was ready to
lose the world for love.
Without these two trusty friends Vega
would be indeed desolate ; but they stand by
her manfully. Miss Mossop is unaffectedly
indifferent to the opinion of the world —
valuing it, most probably, exactly at its
proper worth ; while to be in opposition to
everybody and everything is as the breath
of life to Dottie. The best side of her
headstrong determined nature has always
prompted her to fight for the oppressed, or
to stand by those who are down. Were
Vega joyous, happy, and fortunate, the sight
would fill her with envy and resentment ;
but Vega, slighted and neglected, turns her
into an eager partisan at once, while she
never forgets her promise to Brian to be a
good friend to the girl he loved so dearly.
She spends much of her time at The
Towers, though it is Lady Hermione's way
to lament loudly her daughter's obstinacy
and wrong-headedness, and to assert that
Dottie is acting in direct defiance to her
wishes by visiting there at all — the real
A WANDERING STAR. 2 23
truth being that she Is thankful to be
rid of her on such easy terms, and would
be heartily glad If she stayed there for
Pussle Is such a perfect cipher, and can be
disposed of so easily, that once Dottle is off
her hands her ladyship is comparatively
free, and, at any rate, is able to spend all the
little money she . possesses religiously on
The ties of blood do not bind her
strongly, and since the time when Dottle
changed from a picturesque, black-eyed child
to a beetle-browed, coarse-complexioned,
clumsy-looking girl, she has never given her
mother a moment of such real, unalloyed
pleasure as she experiences when she
receives a letter from her second daughter,
dated from The Towers, and informing her
In curt and perfectly independent language
that she is engaged to, and means shor-tly
to marry, a cousin of Mr. Mossop's, whose
connection with beer Is not by any means
in the past tense, like his, but who, being
one of the managers of the prosperous
2 24 A WANDERING STAR.
brewery of Mossop & Co., Is In a position
to offer Dottle a comfortable home, which
she has promptly accepted. Lady Her-
mlone wrings her hands in public and
laments Dottle s '' low marriage " loudly,
being at the same time hardly able to con-
ceal her joy, especially as the attitude she
assumes towards her daughter Is so Insulting
that Mr. Mossop consents to the marriage
taking place from The Towers, while one of
the few gleams of pleasure that reaches
Vega In these latter days Is that she is
allowed to give the future bride her trous-
seau, and to see her satisfaction and delight
over her new possessions.
And Brian Beresford — what of him ?
How has Fortune treated one on whose
head she had once showered all good
things ? Her wheel turns quickly Indeed ;
and the evil days that will soon be on us all
have come on him with curious swiftness.
He lost everything at once ; for It was
Indeed a sudden blow that took from him
everything that makes life worth having at
all. He was one moment strong and bold
A WANDERING STAR. 225
and bright and handsome — he is a wreck
the next, for his health is gone, and his
mind is at times sadly clouded ; while the
good looks, that once were a passport to the
hearts of men as well as of women, so
delightful were they, are now replaced by
misshapen features, from which even friendly
eyes are glad to turn away. His face is
drawn by pain and suffering — Time's kindly
fingers can hardly obliterate the unseemly
gash stamped on it by an iron hoof — and
even the eyes are not quite Brian's eyes, so
strained and altered is their expression.
He is now moody, sad, silent, almost sullen
— he who once was so frank and genial.
He has suffered frightfully — been tortured
by clever doctors and skilful surgeons, and
been pieced together and patched up by
them as well as the job could possibly be
done ; they have mended the case after a
fashion, but they cannot get at the broken
mainspring ! He seems filled with but one
idea when all is done, and that is to get
away from every one. He cannot get
accustomed to pity — he shrinks from kindly
VOL. III. Q
2 26 A WANDERING STAR.
as much as from curious looks — and a
helping hand seems a sort of insult.
The end comes to some before the breath
actually leaves the body ; and before he dies
Brian is gone. Before that comes to pass
he has left country, friends, and all the joys
of life behind him, for he has obtained his
last wish at least ; and on an alien soil, and
tended by stranger hands, does the man,
once one of the most beloved of this earth's
creatures, end his days.
" By strange stars watched, he sleeps afar."
When the news reaches Conholt Lady
Julia's stormy grief is both violent and
genuine ; for with Beresford died the only
one of all her lovers for whom she had felt
something approaching real love, and his
place in her heart can never be filled again.
She may still feel both joy and sorrow, of
a certain sort, in days to come —
" All the joys of the flesh, all the sorrows
That wear out the soul,"
and many another emotion too — but not real
love. That flickered and went out for ever
A WANDERING STAR. 22^
when the one person who had called it into
life was taken away from her.
But Vega received what may be called
her death-blow when she said good-bye to
Brian ; and even this news — or, indeed, any
news, good or bad, that can come to her in
the future — has but little power to affect her,
for fate has already done its worst.
" For the dusty darkness shall slay desire,
And the chaff shall burn with unquenchable fire ;
But for green wild growth of thistle and briar,
At least, there is no renewing."
Woodfall & Kinder, Printers, 70 to 76, Long Acre, London, W.C.
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